Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Toolbox for Ethical Shopping Pt. 6

This last weekend, I spent my weekend in Calgary, hanging out at a booth representing Wellspring at the Canadian Youth Workers Convention, where we were advertising our new youth curriculum, JustUs: Poverty and Justice Explored.  It's pretty awesome.  You can check it out at  But that's beside the point. During this event, I spent a lot of time standing around and chatting to other exhibitors.  One of these exhibitors was from an organization called Defend Dignity, and they work in Canada to eliminate sexual exploitation through education and a lot of really cool programs.  I walked over to chat because I was interested in finding out about their work, and because they had t-shirts with quotes from Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa written on them.  As we chatted, he happened to mention they were giving away t-shirts for free, so I am happy to announce that I am now the proud owner of a new t-shirt.  I picked the Mandela quote, partially because I think Mandela is awesome, and partially because I love the quote.  My new t-shirt reads:

"To be free is.. to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others."  --Nelson Mandela

It's a great quote, yes.  But spend a minute thinking about that.  If we were to define freedom the way Mandela does, how many of us can truly claim that we are free?  I hope and strive to live in this freedom, but I am aware that it is not my reality.  This is one reason I began this journey to live justly, and specifically to learn about where my clothing comes from, how it's made, and what conditions it's made in.  I hope by choosing to buy clothes that are made in a safe environment, by people who are paid fairly and are given many opportunities, I will respect and enhance the freedom of the textile workers all over the world.

This is part 6 of 7 of my review of Coquitlam Centre Mall stores.  Check out parts one through five here.

I know department stores aren't the most popular places to shop these days, but Sears Canada has a reputation for conducting their business ethically.  Their "Social Responsibility" website is easy to find (thankfully for me!), and is extremely deep and detailed.  Their Code of Vendor Conduct is printed in 26 languages, and is required to be posted in all of their factories, so that those it is meant to protect can see and read it - which is awesome!  Realistically, some of the people who work in their factories may not be able to read, but giving them access to the document that protects them from oppression is pretty amazing.  I'm a little surprised that this is the first company I've come across with this policy, as it's pretty ingenious.  This Conduct, which, in theory, all workers will be able to read and know, states that child and involuntary labour, harassment and abuse, and discrimination are prohibited.  It also states that the factory must be safe and clean, and that employees are not to work more than 60 hour weeks, with at least one day off every seven.  It also clearly states that each employee should receive wages, including overtime pay and benefits.  Can you imagine how empowering it would be for these employees to walk by this every day?  On top of that, at the bottom of the document it has contact information, saying specifically who you should get in touch with if any of the policies are violated.  On top of this, they also have a web page on Conflict Mineral Policies.  A 2012 Act adopted by the US Securities and Exchange Commission requires companies to disclose the use of conflict minerals originating in the Democratic Republic of Congo, or surrounding countries - this includes tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold.  The website states that Sears is "committed to ensuring that it's products are obtained in a socially responsible manner and is taking steps to ensure compliance... including conducting supply chain due diligence to identify the presence of conflict minerals in those products that it contracts to manufacture."1  Sears also conducts regular audits of it's factories, which include interviewing factory workers.  They also have a factory improvement process, as they believe that it is important to support factories that do not meet standards and help them improve rather than just terminating the relationship, as termination negatively affects the workers they were trying to protect in the first place.

Sephora is a huge make-up company.  They are one of the few cosmetic companies that have a "Supply Chain Transparency" page on their website.  In accordance with the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act, Sephora has adopted a statement saying that suppliers are prohibited from engaging in forced labour, human trafficking, child labour and harassment and abuse.  It states that Sephora has communicated this with it's suppliers, but does not conducts audits of it's supply chain (hence the yellow grade.)  The website says they will "consider" audits should they feel a supplier is in significant risk of breaking their Code of Conduct.

SoftMoc has none of their supply chain policies on their website, so we cannot be sure of how their shoes are made.

Spencers Gifts
While the consumer goods sold in Spencer's Gifts are a little strange at times, they do have some policies in place for it's supply chain.  I'm always told not to judge a book by its cover, but I'll be honest, I judged Spencer's Gifts and was surprised they had any policies at all.  They aren't extremely thorough, and skip the issue of child labour altogether, hence the red rating.  But they do state that they require all of their suppliers to follow local laws governing human trafficking and slavery, and it requires a third party auditor to confirm suppliers' compliance with laws.

SportChek has no policies on their website, so we can't be sure of how their gear is made.  It would be worth researching the brands they carry individually.  In a quick glance through the website of some of the larger brands, I found that Under Armour seems to have decent policies in place, but could not find much about Nike or Adidas.

STREET is a Canadian owned and operated clothing store.  It does not have its own website, but is part of the Below the Belt in Coquitlam Centre, and carries the same brands.  

Suzy Shier
Suzy Shier's website has no policies stated.

Swimco doesn't have any policies on its website, so I checked out a few of the brands that they carry. Billabong does have some great policies in place, and, though I couldn't find a website for 24th and Ocean, Sears carries them, and considering their policies I must assume they are up to snuff.  More research needs to be done on the individual brands.

All Targets in Canada are closing, so I had to go to the American website to find their policies.  While they do have some a code of conduct for their vendors, this code of conduct says absolutely nothing about how Target ensures compliance of this code.  In fact, it seems to rely on the factories to report any violations of the code.

The Source
I personally really dislike the Source.  It thoroughly bothers me that their slogan is "I want that" as if our society isn't greedy enough as it is.  But thats a rant for another place and another time.  The Source has no policies stated on its website, but like every other IT retailer, it carries many different brands of electronics, so it would be best to research those brands individually.

Tip Top Tailors
Tip Top also has no information on its supply chain listed on its website.

Town Shoes
Town Shoes has no information on its supply chain, but does provide a list of brands they carry. Once again, further research is required on the individual shoe brands.

Triple Flip
Triple Flip is a girl's athletic clothing store.  Sadly, they have no policies on their website.

This blog post makes me a little sad. Only ONE store that you could confidently walk into, pick something up off the shelf, and be certain no one was harmed in the making of it.  If you have the time to check out a few more brands carried by some of these stores, please comment below and let us know what you find!  My hope and desire is to enable myself and others to be free in Nelson Mandela's sense of the word - to "respect and enhance the freedom" of the supply chain workers who make our clothing, shoes and cosmetics, and in the process, to allow us to experience our own true freedom.

Thanks for reading!

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