"So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin." James 3:17
The first thing I learned on this journey to live justly is that I can't say that it's my goal to learn to publicly love others and continue to make the same decisions I did before. I need to change my habits. In my last post, I wrote about how the first thing I need to change is the way I think about and view other people. I'm not sure if this logically comes second, but I felt that as I struggled with something as abstract and difficult as controlling my thoughts, I needed something a little more practical. I've been convicted for a while about what I choose to give value to through my buying habits, and, through James's flawless logic, that means not changing my buying habits is sin.
I think of purchasing a little bit like voting. By spending my money on something, I'm essentially telling the producer that I value what they produce, and therefore support them and their business. Don't worry, I'm not about to get political and tell you that I think it's more just to vote one way or another, but there is a just way to vote with our credit cards. In 2013, Walmart was in the running (not for the first time, might I add) for the Corporate Hall of Shame, which is Corporate Accountability International's way of holding companies accountable for environmental, health and human rights abuses*. Shopping at Walmart, putting money into the pockets of the people who run a very unjust company, is telling them you support them. They don't care if you're angry about it, as long as you keep buying their products. So, as a woman in her mid-twenties who enjoys many products that are typically produced at the expense of someone's freedom or dignity, how can I "vote" for justice with my credit card?
A lot more questions came up when I first began pondering this. I did some research and found that, when it came to clothing, most people suggested buying Canadian or American made clothes to ensure that it was produced under certain labour standards. While this is helpful, it didn't sit right with me. Yes, I like to buy local and support local businesses sometimes, but not exclusively. While buying local and supporting local business is good, not supporting businesses that are doing things well just because they're not Canadian isn't. There are clothing producers in the developing world who are working hard to make a living and provide for their families. If a company is treating and paying their employees fairly, I would like to allow them to continue to do so by purchasing their products.
I was recently talking to someone about my favourite jewelry brand, Stella&Dot, and told them about how I loved that all the pieces were made by fair trade artisans around the world. She didn't seem very impressed and proceeded to tell me about how she had heard that the fair trade movement was putting a ton of people in the Philippines out of jobs. I didn't look into this, and don't know the details, but the conversation got me thinking. While I don't think it is just to harm people in the making of my consumer goods, how are people in the developing world, who have no control over their work environment and need to make a living just as much (often more) than anyone else, being harmed if I choose to buy only ethically produced clothing? It's not their fault that the company they work for is not choosing to pay them fairly or ensure their safety at work, and it's not fair to them that they lose a job, or make even less money than they already do because people choose to shop ethically. However, I still don't think this justifies supporting companies that put their workers in harms way. I'm sad to tell you that I have yet to reconcile this line of thinking with my desire to live out justice in my life. I hope and pray that if more people choose to purchase ethically made goods, more companies will choose to produce their goods in a more ethical way.
While I was unable to find a concrete way to solve the problem created by that line of questioning, a little research helped me to solve the former problem. As I mentioned earlier, when I began my research I found a lot of articles suggesting ways to be relatively sure that the products you're purchasing were made without harming those involved in its creation. There were a lot of guidelines to follow, and not a lot of practical examples. So, tonight, I shall remedy that. If you, like me, enjoy fashion and aren't a big thrifter, here are some clothing companies that are doing a good job of ensuring their workers are well taken care of:
1. LOFT - I single LOFT out of the collection of ANN INC. companies because it more my style, but the whole company (Ann Taylor, LOFT, and both factory stores) uses ethical sourcing, and has systems in place to protect both their worker's rights and the environment. (www.anncares.com)
2. J. Crew - J. Crew's website outlines their commitment to responsible sourcing, as well as to helping out their own community by supporting local non-profits. (https://www.jcrew.com/ca/flatpages/social_responsibility.jsp)
3. Anthropologie - Anthropologie operates under the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act. You can read the act here: http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/164934.pdf. Anthropologie's website outlines how the company will only do business with a supplier if it agrees to Anthropologie's code of conduct, which states that they will operate in compliance with the law, including "without child labor, without forced or compulsory labor, without corporal punishment, without discrimination and in compliance with wage and hour requirements, health and safety and environmental laws." (http://www.anthropologie.com/anthro/category/help-cali-notice.jsp?cm_sp=FOOTER-_-Sub-_-California#/)
4. Madewell - Madewell is part of a J. Crew brand and has the same commitment to social responsibility. (https://www.madewell.com/footer/socialresponsibility.jsp)
5. Alternative Apparel - Alternative is both a socially and environmentally sustainable company! The website boasts that Alternative's factories are in accordance with the Fair Labour Association Workplace Code of Conduct. (http://www.alternativeapparel.com/story/social-responsibility)
6. The Gap - The Gap Inc. (Banana Republic, the Gap, Old Navy) does surprise inspections in their factories to keep their supply chain accountable to treating employees fairly. More than that, they "recognize that monitoring alone is not enough….[and] also build partnerships and aim to share accountability among companies, vendors, workers and other key stakeholders." http://www.gapinc.com/content/gapinc/html/social_responsibility/human_rights.html
7. Aritzia - I was never a huge fan of Aritzia before because I thought it was more of an overpriced status symbol than anything, but once I learned that they have a Social & Environmental Responsibility team whose sole job it is to ensure that every decision made in the company is one that benefits the global community, I had to give them props. I might even start shopping there. (http://aritzia.com/en/aritzia/social-responsibility/social-responsibility.html)
8. Vero Moda - Vero Moda is one of my favourite clothing brands, and it's part of "Bestseller." Bestseller believes in developing relationships with their suppliers, and they train their suppliers in fire safety, health and safety, workers' rights and responsibilities, and nutrition and hygiene. (http://about.bestseller.com/SustainabilityContent/Working-Conditions.aspx)
These are eight brands I found in less than an hour. Yes, finding socially responsible clothing brands takes some work, but it's easier than most people think. I complained earlier that I found the many articles with suggestions as to how to shop ethically somewhat unhelpful, but there is one guideline that I think is very useful: If there is nothing on their website about social responsibility or how their clothing is produces, they probably aren't produced in a safe and fair environment. If a company is making the effort to ensure that all their employees are treated fairly, they'll want you to know about it and will make it fairly easy for you to find out.
There are many other consumer good I could write about, but to be honest, it's significantly easier to find information on which chocolate, tea or coffee to buy than it is clothing.
If you are someone who wants their spending habits to reflect a value of human life, I hope you found this helpful. I plan on doing more research on other products to ensure that the things I purchase don't put other people in harms way, so if there's a specific product you're interested in, leave me a comment and I'll check it out for you!
* Find the information here: http://www.alternet.org/environment/9-companies-vying-2013-corporate-hall-shame