Want Another Way to Rescue Orphans? Buy Fair Trade.
Clothing prices in the States are undeniably cheap. Walk into a Target or a Walmart, and you can walk out with a shirt for only $5. And sure, that’s pretty convenient. Until you ask the question, how is this clothing sold for so little?
And the problem is, we all sort of know the answer to that question. Conditions in sweatshops, factories and farms in developing countries have a history of being very questionable, and there have been enough exposes done on them for it to be public knowledge.
Outdated safety standards. Overlong hours. Cruel bosses. Wages that are simply too low. Children working sewing machines or harvesting coffee when they should be in school.
Horrible conditions like these still exist in developing countries, and we benefit from the things that are produced under these conditions. And that’s a hard thing to know, and to come to terms with. It’s especially hard, because this knowledge then begs the question, “Are you going to do anything about that?”
I know for me, learning things like this can be immobilizing. All this information makes me freeze, because it reminds me what a horrible place the world is. And I freeze because I sometimes feel like there is nothing I can do to change this. With your interest in caring for orphans and the oppressed, I imagine you sometimes feel the same way. Which is why this article seeks to explore ways that we can all choose to support industries that uphold better standards for those they employ, no matter where those people might be from, or where those factories might be.
So, really, how important is it to shop ethically?
Being discerning about where the products that you buy come from starts with asking the question “Who made this product? How were they affected by its production?” It starts the process of realizing that your consumer choices don’t just affect you, they affect the larger global economy, and the lives of those all over the world. They also affect the environment. Our choices are not made in isolation. We are all connected to each other in some way, and it’s important to pay attention to them.
The kids that can end up working in sweat shops aren’t that different than our Kinship kids. In fact, in many cases, they often have similar stories. The lives and childhoods of all children are important. At Kinship United, we’re dedicated to restoring the childhoods of the children that we work with. But sweatshops steal childhoods, which flies in the face of everything Kinship United stands for.
To make a point of buying ethically produced products makes a point of caring about kids.
But making an effort to buy ethically produced products can be beneficial to you as well. Many times, the quality of the products is better. Fair trade items are often made in smaller batches, and therefore are generally higher quality than their mass produced counterparts. You will pay more for this type of clothing, but will most likely not have to buy as many articles as much because your clothes will last longer.
It’s also just fun to buy items with a story. At some fair trade organizations, they’ll give you the name of the person who handmade the item that you bought, or their name will be handwritten on the inside of the product. There’s something incredibly special about being connected to a larger story, and knowing about the organizations that you buy from is one way to do that. Your coffee, or your new hat, have passed through the hands of a worker who has been allowed to work with dignity. They have pride in the work they’ve done, and you can feel good about the purchases that you made.
Fair Trade Certification
One way to buy ethically is to buy fair trade. Essentially, the meaning of fair trade can be deduced from the title. It revolves around the idea of workers being fairly compensated for their work. It means that there will not be unfair expectations of overtime work demanded of them, and that they would have safe and clean working conditions.
According to the World Fair Trade Organization, there are 10 principles that producers who are considered fair trade abide by:
- Opportunities for disadvantaged producers
- Transparency and accountability
- Fair trade practices
- Fair payment
- No child labor, no forced labor
- No discrimination, gender equity and freedom of association
- Good working conditions
- Capacity building
- Promote fair trade
- Respect for the environment
Fair trade producers seek to “deliberately to work with marginalized producers and workers in order to help them move from a position of vulnerability to security and economic self-sufficiency, to empower producers and workers as stakeholders in their own organizations, and to actively to play a wider role in the global arena to achieve greater equity in international trade.” (UN)
It seeks to make production a fairer process for those working in developing countries. Those who are certified as fair trade have to abide by the 10 principles listed. At the core of the fair trade certification is the desire to provide fair working conditions for those who would otherwise find themselves exploited.
Ethically sourced businesses to check out:
So buying ethically is important, and looking for the fair trade label is one way to do it. Where do you start looking for products that are made ethically? Well, we’ve outlined three companies for you as a starting place.
Krochet Kids (http://www.krochetkids.org)
Krochet Kids sells a variety of handmade hats and headbands, as well as many different other clothing options and accessories. Each article of clothing sold has the name of the woman who made it handwritten on the inside of the piece. The women employed by Krochet Kids learn valuable skills such as how to produce quality clothing, as well as practical business skills through these jobs.
Sseko Designs (https://ssekodesigns.com)
Sseko Designs is based in Uganda, and they produce sandals, as well as a variety of other accessory pieces such as purses and necklaces. They employ young, Uganda women who have recently graduated from high school, and are spending the 9 month gap between graduation and beginning university to make money to pay for their tuition. The girls make the shoes, and part of the money that they make doing so is put away for their college funds. Sseko then matches everything that the girl saves 100%. This system guarantees that the girls who are employed by Sseko attend college after their time working there.
Patagonia is a clothing company that is continually seeking to decrease their negative impact on the environment, and provide fair wages and working conditions for those who they employ. They focus on the importance of simplicity and sustainability, even including a guide to repairing clothes when they become ripped or damaged in anyway, instead of encouraging customers to buy new piece.
Practical ways to buy ethically
- Don’t buy into the idea that you need massive amounts of clothing, or new clothes with every turn of the fashion season. Buy fewer clothes, and buy fair trade instead. The reason clothes that aren’t produced fair trade can be bought so cheaply is in part because the workers making those clothes aren’t paid fairly, or because safety standards are ignored in order to cut costs. Ethically sourced clothing can be more expensive, but embracing minimalism is one way to be able to afford it.
- Always be on the lookout for the fair trade symbol when grocery shopping. Sometimes, fair trade isn’t significantly more expensive, and just paying attention to it can make the difference in your purchase.
- A site like http://projectjust.com/ is a wonderful tool to use to find out whether or not certain companies source their clothes ethically. Just look up a clothing brand, and Project Just will most likely have a write up of the company’s policies concerning ethically sourced clothing. This saves you all the time and effort it would take to research. Finding out where your clothes come from is easier than ever!
- Buy second hand. Thrift stores are great places to find inexpensive pieces of clothing without supporting sweatshops. You can shop ethically, and not break the bank. And on top of that, thrift stores are often connected to charities which receive some of their profits.
- Shop local, buying from small boutiques in nearby towns. Buy fruits and vegetables from your local farmer’s market. Support your friends’ small businesses. Buying directly from the source is one way to know exactly where your food or clothes are coming from.
Making these choices doesn’t come without some sacrifice. They require spending a little more and buying a little less. These choices require all of us to think more deeply about how and what we consume, and where those products have come from. It isn’t easy. I know for me, it’s often very convicting. Even in the writing of this article, I’ve had to reconsider some of my own buying habits.
At Kinship United, we respect the fact that you’re the kind of person who wants to make a difference. That you’re the kind of person who is willing to ask hard questions, and look difficult situations in the face. This article and the resources are here to help you keep doing that. Because you can make a difference, even just for one person, and to shop ethically is one way to do that.