Thursday, March 19, 2015

Toolbox for Ethical Shopping Pt.7

This morning, I read an interesting article about hashtag activism.  It outlined what the issue was with it, but the part that stood out to me was a reference to something Malcom Gladwell said:

"We are swimming in knowledge, but lacking in understanding behind it."

I wonder how much my blog is contributing to this phenomenon.  My hope is to give people the knowledge to make informed decisions when purchasing their consumer goods, but the truth is, the issue of ethical supply chains is immensely complex.  I've wrestled with a lot recently as people have brought articles to my attention that contradicted what retailers websites said.  Most people's initial reaction is to say that the business is just putting on a good front, but then the question is, why?  If they can't and aren't trying to live up to the policies they put in place, why have many of them made them so robust?  The companies who make no claim be ethical don't deal with the same criticism, so if you're not going to follow through, why make yourself a target?  So it becomes much more complex than being only about who professes to have policies in place.  When things go wrong in a factory, or many factories, how long will it realistically take before the problem is solved?  Where does the responsibility of the corporation end and the individuals who manage and work in the factories begin? 

What I'm trying to say here is that this whole issue is so complex that there's no way that a seven part blog series is going to answer all your questions and give you all the information so you know the exact conditions every piece of clothing, every shoe and every cell phone you purchase was made in.  I don't have all the answers, in fact, I have hardly any of the answers!  So I urge you to take what I've written and put it in your "ethical shopping" toolbox, but look for other tools to accompany it.  Search for news articles about your favourite brands.  Seek out fair trade alternatives to the things you usually buy.  And keep an open mind when reading articles, watching videos, listening to what other people say about different brands (including me!), and searching out policies on a corporations website. 

That being said, let's take a look at the last seven stores in my local mall, Coquitlam Centre.

Urban Barn
Urban Barn is a furniture and housing goods store. Sadly it has no information on its website about its supply chain.

Urban Vista
Urban Vista is another furniture store, and also has no information about where or how its products are made on its website.

Walk with Ronsons
Walk with Ronsons is the umbrella company which owns Ronson's Rack, which I wrote about in a previous blog.  All Walk with Ronsons shoes are Canadian designed and manufactured.

WATCHIT! is (you guessed it!) a watch retailer.  They also carry sunglasses and other accessories, but have no information on their website about where or how their products are made.

Starbucks has at least one Fair Trade certified coffee, but they work closely with Conservation International to ensure that all their coffee, as well as their tea and cocoa, is ethically produced.  Starbucks is all about transparency, and requires that suppliers have evidence of payments throughout the supply chain, so that Starbucks knows exactly how much money reaches the farmers.  They also publish a progress report about their coffee purchasing on their website for all consumers to read.

Waves Coffee falls somewhere between really awesome, and could potentially be better.  Their website states that all their coffee is purchased directly from small lot farmers, which is awesome.  But one of the things they're famous for is their real Belgian chocolate in their mochas and hot chocolates.  However, their website says nothing about the sourcing of the chocolate that they use, or of their tea.  

West49 is a skate/surf shop that carried multiple different brands.  They have no information about their supply chain on their website, so I would proceed with caution.  However, as they carry multiple different brands, it might be worth researching the brand you're interested in before writing them off entirely.

Zumiez is another skate/surf shop, which has its "Code of Conduct" posted on its website.  This Code states that Zumiez will not conduct business with any factory that uses forced labour, or child labour.  The Code also prohibits partner factories to engage in harassment, abuse or discrimination.  It also outlines rules for compensation of the factory employees, as well as overtime, length of work weeks, and health and safety in the workplace.  The Code also states that both Zumiez and third party auditors engage in both announced and unannounced audits of the factories.

Well, that's the end.  I hope you will be able to use this as a resource to aid you in your own journey of empowering rather than harming others through your consumer habits, and I hope this information has served to make the murky waters of corporations supply chains a little more clear.  

To sum it all up, after all my research, here are the stores I would recommend checking out first, next time you're looking for a specific consumer good:

American Eagle, Aritzia, Eddie Bauer, H&M, Hudson's Bay, Le Chateau, Retimans, RW&Co., Sears and Zumiez.

ALDO Shoes, Call it Spring, Footlocker, Hudson's Bay, Le Chateau, Naturalizer Shoes, Ronson's Rack, Sears, Walk with Ronsons and Zumiez.

Hudson's Bay, La Senza and Sears.

Coffee, tea and chocolate
DAVIDsTea, Purdy's Chocolate, Starbucks and Waves.

Sporting wear
Hudson's Bay, Lululemon and Sears.

Bath and cosmetic products
The Body Shop, Lush and Merle Norman.

Kids Clothing
The Children's Place, Gymboree, Hudson's Bay and Sears.

Houseware items
Hudson's Bay, and Sears.

If you're in the market for some new technology, this is a tricky one.  I would personally still buy Apple if I for some reason needed to buy new, as they are doing more than any other company to respect the dignity and value of the people in their supply chain.  There have obviously been problems, which they claim to be trying to fix.  We cannot expect these problems to go away over night and hopefully we will see some of them resolved as the company works to correct them. Maybe I'm delusional and they're just dotting the "i"s and crossing the "t"s for show.  If you can, I would suggest buying second hand.

May you use this knowledge to bring you to a deeper understanding of how your purchases affect people around the world.  May you use it to develop responsible consumer habits, as well as compassion for the girls, boys, women and men exploited around the world so that we can have more "stuff."  And may you use it to do your part in changing the system that disadvantages, and enslaves millions of people worldwide.

Thanks for reading!

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