Please Consume Responsibly: Part 1 Slavery, Social Enterprise and Fair Trade
Earlier this week I posted about why we need to re-think the way we – as followers of Christ – celebrate Christmas. If you haven’t read that post yet, do so now.
That said, a few other nuts and bolts you should know about before diving in to the guide.
- Slavery exists. Yep. It does. In fact, slavery exists on a huge scale. There are some 27 million men, women and children enslaved today. Slavery exists in every industry. Food, luxuries, clothing, electronics, sex. There is evidence of slave labor in every supply chain of every industry.
- As consumers in the U.S. we should generally assume that there is corruption and exploitation in the supply chain.
I assumed for most of my life that things from reputable stores or emblazoned with an expensive brand were somehow produced more ethically. This is simply not true.
- We are responsible. I have heard so many people brush off these issues because “the system is so big!” or “why should we care?” or “this is the way things have always been.” Maybe it’s true, this is the way things have always been. Human exploitation is a tale as old as time. But I think we can also plant our feet firmly in the truth that this is not the way things should be! People fight for the world they want all the time. The issue isn’t whether or not we can effect change, the issue is which battle are we willing to fight. I happen to be of the belief that certainly, in 2013, we should all be able to agree that slavery is evil and it needs to end. Danielle Vermeer has some excellent, challenging, heart wrenching thoughts on this point.
- It does cost more, but it’s okay to give less. Christmas has become a holiday in which we celebrate and worship excess at the expense of human life. Literally. Families are oppressed by the back-breaking demands put on them in sweatshops. People die in factories. Children are kidnapped to work in cocoa fields. We can’t always see it, but it doesn’t make it any less true. Give life to the world, even if it means you give less under your Christmas tree.
Social Enterprise vs. Ethically Produced
In recent years there have been many companies and product lines birthed in the philosophy consuming responsibly, or buying to give back. These companies often herald something along the lines of “shop our brand and change the world!”
Think of the TOMS Shoes and Warby Parker “Buy one, give one” model. Or the FEED, RED or Sevenly model “A portion of each product goes to _______ organization.”
Businesses that operate under this philosophy are called social enterprises.
And social enterprise is a cool idea, you can buy cool stuff, that is usually very aesthetically appealing, it’s fairly easy to access, and HEY! a kid just got a pair of shoes out of the deal! Social enterprises can do good things, they sometimes have very ethical production means, however it should never, ever be assumed that the products marketed by social enterprises are produced ethically. Social enterprises often have good ideas, but rarely do their means of addressing issues get at the root of the problem. (i.e. giving a child a pair of TOMS shoes does not address the system of poverty which is the reason why they have no shoes.)
Ethically produced products, on the other hand, may not market themselves as having any kickback. Their marketing may be pretty nonexistent in fact. They will likely not feature photographs of smiling, glowing children from around the world with new shoes on their feet or a bowl full of rice because your purchase doesn’t directly give that child shoes or rice or anything else. Your purchase gives that child’s parent a job, so that parent can purchase whatever their child need. The easiest way to ensure that a product has been ethically produced is to check for a fair trade certification.
Just like any certification though, fair trade certification is expensive and requires a lot of work to obtain. There are companies and co-ops that exist in tight relationship with their suppliers and manufacturers who have just as high (if not higher) ethical standards as fair trade companies. These are typically smaller business models though and can be difficult to find.
There are big, mainstream companies who have a high ethical standards as well, or who are actively working towards raising the working conditions of their workers. Often these companies have information about their supply and production ethics on their websites. I’ll list some of them in the guide.
Social enterprise supplies relief. Businesses that engage in ethical labor and supply policies provide systemic change. Providing kids a pair of shoes will likely not change their life or their family’s life, but it may help prevent some diseases and be more comfortable. Providing a person with sustainable employment, a living wage and the dignity of work does change their life and the life of their family.
The guide below includes both social enterprises and companies that use sustainable, ethical practices in their production and supply chains. Social enterprises are designated SE.
Ethically produced products are designated EP.
Fair trade products are designated FT.
Companies taking steps toward sustainability are designated TS.
This is certainly not a comprehensive guide, Free2Work is an organization that works to grade companies on their sustainability practices. There is so much information out there if you take the time to dig around a little. My hope is that this guide can act as a springboard, that you will catch a glimpse of what is out there, and that you will seek out more.
Noonday Collection – SE, EP
(Scarves, hats, jewelry, home decor)
Better Life Bags – SE, EP
(handbags, laptop/ipod cases)
The Brave Collection – SE, FT
Rahab’s Rope – SE, FT
(jewelry, scarves, home decor, journals)
Refugee Beads – SE, EP
(jewelry, scarves, hair accessories)
Gap, Inc. – TS, occasional involvement in SE
(Old Navy, Gap, Banana Republic and Athleta brands)
Fair Indigo – FT
(men’s, women’s, children’s and infant apparel and accessories)
Liberate – EP, SE
(women’s apparel, jewelry, home decor)
Patagonia – EP, some FT product
(men’s, women’s and children’s clothing, outdoor gear)
Punjammies – SE, EP
Sevenly – SE
(men’s, women’s and children’s t-shirts, jewelry, accessories and home decor)
Land of a Thousand Hills – FT, SE
Divine Chocolate – FT
Koinonia Farm – FT, SE, TS
(nuts, chocolate, coffee, pies)
Under the Nile – EP
(infant and toddler toys, clothing and accessories)
Ten Thousand Villages – FT
(toys, games and instruments with a global feel)
PlanToys – TS
(toys for all ages)
Magic Cabin – TS
(toys for all ages)