This Summer, it has been difficult to enjoy all the fashion trends, sales, and dress guilt free after something my friend shared with me a few months ago. He said,“ If you aren’t paying for it, someone else is.” For whatever reason, that changed my life. It became real to me that the price difference is somebody’s life. Ever since then, I can only see the faces of the enslaved women and children who’s basic human rights are stolen so I can have cute shoes, rock a hot top, or enjoy a great pair of jeans. Then my convictions were tested when Old Navy started their summer campaign and flip-flop sales. While contemplating what color flip-flops I wanted an image popped in my head of me literally stepping on the faces of children as I walked in my new flip-flops. Yes, that is a morbid visual! Yet it is exactly what we are doing when we purchase products from companies who have been publicly called out for poor practices. In reality it is more like stomping on the hearts and dreams of children because in their environment, education and opportunity will never be an option for them. The life of a child and his/her family is not worth “affordable products.” After hearing countless stories of women being trapped in sweatshops with life threatening working conditions, and watching, documented video of children picking cocoa beans, it changed the way I consume some of my favorite things. Modern day slavery is a lot closer to you than you think. In fact, it is probably right in your closet, pantry, and in the device you are reading this blog from. That is why as part of my activation of the community in the fight against human trafficking I am joining the 2015 TIP Report’s call to action on conscious consumerism. There are 3 ways you can join me.
1. Research Companies and Support Ethical Ones!
There is actually a label certification to make this process a lot easier. It is called Fair Trade. For some of you, “Fair Trade” might be a new term. It is a product certification that regulates trade conditions between factories, farmers, and buyers by incentivizing long-term relationships and higher wages. The product can be traced to ethical sources all the way down to the packaging. You might be surprised how many slaves are working for you. You can find a list of certified products on the Fair Trade USA site - but understand that their list is not exhaustive. There are many ethically conscious companies that are not necessarily on their list. Free 2 Work is also another great resource for researching companies on their graded rating scale. Another way to purchase ethical products is to purchase American made, but be sure it is not simply assembled in the US. It is still slave made if every part of the item came from a sweatshop, but an American put it together. Purchasing locally produced, second hand, or organic can also cut down on your slavery footprint.
2. Demand Change and Support Survivors.
Fair trade has guidelines on what constitutes as an ethical product. Use their guidelines to help write, tweet, and make noise to CEO’s of companies. No one likes bad PR and when companies realize that their consumers are conscious, they become more conscious. Feel free to make it a party! It is powerful when people come together in unity for an incredible cause – that affects change faster than a single voice. While you and your friends are going after your favorite places to shop, make sure you are supporting survivors of the trade by purchasing their items. There are many organizations who care for those who have been exploited and teach survivors a trade or how to operate a small business of their own. Then they sell their items in online stores as a way to raise awareness and support recovering survivors. Rescue 1 Global sells Thai times for our survivors, but there are other organizations in different regions you can find as well.
3. Raise Awareness.
Do not be afraid to openly talk about why you do not wear certain brands or support certain companies. Not many people really think about the person who made the clothes they were wearing, picked the cocoa beans that made their chocolate bar, or harvested the grapes for the wine they are drinking. Keep researching the companies you currently support and update your social media following on what you find, as well as ethical products to replace the ones who are not fair trade or have production policies to protect and respect their employees. You can start by reading the section on “TIP in the Global Supply Chain” from the 2015 TIP report that released July 27th and the Verite Executive Report on strengthening protection against TIP in federal and corporate supply chains.
You may not feel compelled to rid your home of all slave made items after reading this, but that was not my goal. My goal is to make you aware of where your money is going and what you are supporting with every purchase. The pressure, large companies put on, manufactures to produce a high amount of product for low cost has resulted in a mass trafficking. I would rather a mother have healthcare, have enough money for food, and her children able to attend school than $5 flip flops and t-shirts. I am a college graduate working for a non-profit, “the struggle” is very real in my life. I understand that it might not be the most convenient thing to buy ethically made or fair trade items when you can. The solution is just a series of small changes. Start with coffee and chocolate. Then progress to buy as much of your produce in season at your local farmers markets and get your clothes at second hand stores. The fair trade market is still growing, so there may not be an alternative product for everything. That is ok. It simply means we can let companies know that as a consumer we are looking for ethical products for conscious free consumption. We truly have all the influential power that we need to change the culture and standard of consumption in America. The question is, will we? More importantly, will you? Nothing will change if we are not willing to change ourselves.
A few of my favorite companies include:
Whole Foods grocery
Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream
Look for the Fair Trade symbol on your favorite products!