Holiday shopping is right around the corner, but have you taken a moment to think about whether or not the gifts you’ll buy are ethically sourced? And if you have, how do you know that?
For the ethically aware shopper, fair trade and direct trade products reign supreme. Fair trade products are from companies that pay their workers fair wages, while direct trade products are bought directly from the producers—so you’re not paying a middle man. Both scenarios ensure that workers are paid fairly.
You can ensure that you’re purchasing ethically sourced goods by researching the seller, checking the price, and inspecting the quality of products you want to buy. You can also make items yourself to avoid supporting companies that mistreat their workers! In this article, we’ll delve into detail about each of these four steps so that you can feel prepared and confident to shop ethically.
Evaluate the Seller
When first looking for ethically sourced products, ensure that you know who the seller is. Is it a seller with a reputation for treating employees poorly or one that advocates for workers’ rights and fair wages?
Often, a quick Google search on a company’s website will show you its values and how it treats its workers. You can also view information about how and where its products are made. If a company doesn’t bother to share this information (or even deflects from it), that can be a red flag.
Fair and direct trade companies are usually more intentional about letting customers know where and how their products are made. You can even check out websites like End Slavery Now and The Good Trade for lists of fair trade and direct trade companies.
TL;DR: Do your research before you buy. Some brands may even use words like “green” or “sustainable,” but a quick online search reveals they are anything but.
When in doubt, try to always buy directly from the person making the product (direct trade).
Check the Price
Another way to check if a product is ethically sourced is by checking its price. A surprisingly inexpensive product is often made cheaply: from inexpensive materials and unethical labor. Think about it—if a product is only $1, how much did the company pay the worker in order to make that product?
In order for companies to keep up with the demand that consumers have for new clothing and items, they often employ factory workers at low wages to constantly pump up their supply. This is fast fashion: one of the most common examples of unethical purchasing, and one of the easiest to support unintentionally.
A study that was published in Environmental Health showcased the “injustice of fast-fashion,” mentioning in particular the lack of respect that workers experience. Simply put, fast fashion is the opposite of ethically sourced: it supports companies that subject their workers to unsafe working conditions, poor wages, and general lack of respect.
If you are budget conscious about your products, don’t worry! Buying consciously doesn’t have to mean blowing your budget. Many fair trade and direct trade companies offer seasonal discounts and deals (sometimes just by signing up for their newsletter).
Inspect the Quality
A final, simple way to ensure that a product is ethically sourced is to evaluate the quality of the item: is it quality, or is it cheap?
Let’s go deeper: Cheap doesn’t always mean that an item is just inexpensive. Sometimes, “cheap” means that the item is not made with quality materials. These materials are usually less expensive for companies to produce (thus the term “cheap”), and cheap for consumers to purchase (though they’re usually not very durable).
To keep up with ever-growing demand, businesses use cheap textiles to create their products. Yet, these textiles are not only harmful to the environment, but harmful to our health.
For instance, polyester and synthetic fibers (two generally “cheap” fabrics) are materials that can be harmful to the environment and are made from nonrenewable sources. In fact, one study found that microfibres (like polyester and other synthetic fibers) were in 85% of ocean debris.
Websites dedicated to educating consumers about ethical materials (such as Sustain Your Style) are good resources to better understand which materials are ethical. Coincidentally, sustainable materials are often used by companies who treat their employees well—and unsustainable materials by companies which treat their employees poorly.
To avoid supporting companies that mistreat both the environment and their employees, do a bit of brand research and try to buy ethically sourced products made of high quality materials. These last longer anyway, so they’re worth a slightly higher investment!
DIY Ethically Sourced: Buy it Used or Make Your Own
For those hard-to-find ethically sourced products that you just can’t find from fair trade brands, visit your local thrift store, swap with others, or join your local “Buy Nothing” group and grab some items for free. Resisting the urge to buy something new prevents contributing to pollution that enters the environment every time that we manufacture something new.
Not only will your bank account thank you, but you’ll also be helping to keep the planet healthy. And for those products that just don’t exist in thrift stores, why not consider making your own?
Learn to sew and patch up some old jeans. Make your own all-purpose cleaner with vinegar and water. Join a local art group and make your own jewelry or handmade goods. Not only can you pick what the product is made of, but you will also gain a new skill (and maybe some friends) by doing so! That’s definitely a win-win.
Researching and reducing your consumption helps to keep the planet healthy. When you do need to buy something, buying ethically sourced items ensures that you are making a positive change in both the environment and in the lives of laborers around the world.
Just like you, these workers deserve a work environment that pays them a fair wage, treats them with respect, and allows them to create the life they desire. Buying ethically sourced products is one step in this right direction.
Join us on our journey to support fair trade and direct trade companies!