Why Your Ethical Shopping Matters and What To Do About It

Not into ethical shopping?

I once posted a photo of myself, relaxed and smiling in front of a calm lake on vacation.

Within a couple hours it had over 100 likes.

I later posted a photo of a woman surrounded by heaps of fabric who looked tired and option-less, linked to an article on knowing how to start shopping ethically and end forced labour.

It got like… 9 likes. Total.

I couldn’t help but notice the contrast.

Of course people don’t “like” the problem.  But we also don’t want to look at it.

It’s easy to see the 8.99 t-shirt without seeing the eighteen year old working 18 hour days, 6 days a week.

And I couldn’t help but think “what if I posted a photo of ME swamped and dirty like that?

It’s a global economy. Such a phrase.

All that means is that our use and distribution of resources are no longer limited to our local community. We draw on global resources. Including people.

Someone, somewhere in the world, held the shirt on your back as the seams went through a machine.

The world is smaller.

The global economy touched everything you and I touched today.

The cotton in your clothes can be farmed in China, turned into fabric in India, sewn together in Bangladesh and sold in Canada. Somehow, that’s the most cost-effective production plan.

There are lots of reasons for this, some are good reasons. Listen to a great podcast series if you’re interested in the story of a t-shirt. Pretty fascinating, but complicated.

But here’s the thing.

My bet is you are a moral person. You care about the good.

And my bet is you would never:

buy chocolate from a boy chained to the display.

buy a shirt from a young mother forced to risk her life daily so you can have a deal.

buy a smartphone from a man covered in blood that had to destroy his town to control the minerals in it.

buy a coffee from a man locked in the cafe and couldn’t leave on his own will.

The crazy part is… I have done that. And you have, too.

We just don’t know when we do it.

The global economy means we are so far removed from the process of creation that the only thing we are close to is the price tag.

Naturally, we end up caring more about the price than the process. But when something is cheap, it doesn’t mean it’s free. Someone pays.

Don’t believe me?  You can find out just how personal your slavery footprint is by taking this survey. Freaky.

But here’s the thing.

Money talks.

It endorses.

It approves and affirms.

When our dollars reinforce the supply chain, nothing will change.

But our dollars can also inform the supply chain.

I recognize this is a complicated economic subject and I can often feel defeated when I try to put a dent in manufacturing monsters.

Change takes time and effort, but I’m encouraged. There are brands and products that are conscious of the people in their process.

I think (and hope) the future belongs to those leaders.

I believe you and I would make different purchases if we could see how products got here.

Justin and I have been working on small ways we, as consumers, can inform the supply chain:

  1. Ask questions before buying.
    We’ve called & emailed some of our favourite brands to learn more. If enough customers are asking, it has to eventually turn their head.
    You can ask questions like “What can you tell me about your supply chain?” or “Are you involved in the manufacturing of your products?
    Some companies give really “fluffy” answers, but others will give a solid system and action plan. I asked a sales associate in a store once, and when she knew, I was impressed.
    Let companies know this matters to you?
  2. Plan and save for quality, ethically made products to use for many years.
    This used to be normal, but in our instant-gratification culture, planning and saving has become an art.
    The wait helps affirm that we will still appreciate the product months or years later instead of getting tired of it. If we forget or lose interest before we even buy it, clearly we don’t need it.
    A few of our fave’s:
    Kotn (mens, womens and home quality cotton basics)
    Better Life Bags (custom bags)
    The Root Collective (women’s boots, shoes and accessories)
    Mercy House Global (gorgeous gifts and more).
    But honestly there are SO MANY
    This app is also a great resource!
  3. Curb spontaneous spending.
    This has looked different for both of us, but it comes down to having a filter we put new purchases through.
    Purging our closets and defining ‘essential’ with help of blogs like this one or the book UnStuff Your Life or Marie Kondoing everything really helps us define NEED. The more we can curb frivolous spending and just buy what we actually need, the better.
    (Want to know a little secret? I’m writing a book about curbing frivolous spending! 🙂 )

By no means am I an expert at this. In fact, I’m a rookie that fails often. But this is important and I’m working on it. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

Hold me to it, ok?

How about you? What do you do in an effort to buy better?

5 thoughts on “Why Your Ethical Shopping Matters and What To Do About It”

  1. Good morning Sarah,
    My favourite question to myself when I’m shopping is “can I live without this”.
    The answer is usually yes. After downsizing, it’s even easier. But that is my marvellous
    Stage of life.

  2. I find it so overwhelming to try find out what is ethically sourced… recently I’ve quit Walmart and I’m trying to stop Amazon but like…where do you buy a soother if it’s not made by little abused children?! I guess that’s my dilemma…and I’m trying to start with one thing… buying groceries in Canadian stores…buying Canadian products…but like…now I need a cellphone case…haha…they’re all made in china. Haha

    1. I get it! It can be overwhelming! That’s why you can start with baby steps… And I don’t think China is always bad. And even Amazon has some great companies on it! Good for you for starting to think about it!!??

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