*This post is a long one, but stick with me to the end–you won’t regret it! …Or maybe you might. But, probably not. I’m about 97% sure.*
Hey, you guys! I know, it’s been a coon’s age since I last posted. I’ve been researching some things and mulling a lot of stuff over in my head. A few weeks ago, I watched a short video spotlighting a young man who is on a mission to put an end to the use of sweatshops and forced labor/child labor in the manufacturing of so many of the products that we buy here in America (and elsewhere in the world). It was meant to be an uplifting video about change and protecting the rights of others, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t say how upset I was after watching it.
The fact that some companies use unethical practices in order to keep costs down and profit up is not new to me. When I was in college, I saw a screening for a documentary on the lives of Chinese factory workers who had been contracted under Wal*Mart. I was appalled by what I saw, and decided not to shop there anymore. (This was a fairly easy decision for me because I had worked there for 3 years and had reached the point where you literally couldn’t pay me to step foot in there, haha.)
A few years later, I came across another article that gave me doubts about one of my favorite stores (Forever21). It wasn’t about Forever 21 specifically, but I started to wonder how they could possibly afford to sell $3 camisoles and stuff without making ethical concessions in the manufacturing process. I no longer felt like I could shop there and frankly that wasn’t that big of a deal either because, while their clothes are certainly cute and well within my budget, they’re also very poorly made.
Since then, I guess I put it out of my mind. I took my business to places like H&M, Target, DownEast Outfitters, and occasionally the clearance sections J.Crew, Banana Republic and Anthropologie (crazy good sales!). I’ve long had my concerns about H&M since they’re pretty inexpensive, but I’ve been reluctant to look into it. If I don’t know about a potential problem, it’s like it isn’t there–right?
Anywho, I ultimately came across the aforementioned short video and it has apparently sparked something within me. I’ve been researching international labor standards, reading article after article pointing fingers at some of my favorite brands, watching documentaries that show exhausted factory employees working in unsafe environments under unacceptable conditions. I’ve watched with disgust and disbelief as people in various positions of power explain in interviews why it doesn’t make sense to “pay their employees more to do less” or why it’s impossible to increase pay or lead-time for deadlines when consumers expect more product faster and at a reduced cost.
I’ve seen pictures of children sewing intricate beading onto the plackets of Gap shirts, watched videos of them being stolen or sold by their parents and taken far away from their homes to harvest cotton or cacao. My breathing gets shallow just thinking about it.
People argue that if there were better jobs available in those areas, people wouldn’t work under those conditions. They argue that it’s impossible to hold developing countries and areas with failed economies to the same standards we expect where we live. They say that we have to respect cultural differences and the laws of these other countries (or lack thereof). In one documentary, one of the interviewees (an abused worker) requested that we don’t stop buying the products that they make–after all, it is the source of their livelihood–if that’s what you can call it. To a certain extent, that ALL makes sense.
BUT….something must be done. That may be the way things work in those areas, and it may be the best option for the people working there, but that in no way makes it acceptable. These factories are contracted by many of the wealthiest brands in the wealthiest areas of the world–companies who can afford to pay fair wages and have the influence and resources to ensure that their contracted laborers are being treated properly. I don’t think these companies are giving us consumers enough credit, either! I’m not exactly rollin’ in the Benjamins, but I’m willing to pay in increased price for a product if I know it’s not the product of human atrocities. I know I’m not the only one who feels that way.
I can’t find the one about Wal*Mart, either. But, there are lots about them. (Like “The High Cost of Low Prices.” You can find the entire documentary on YouTube and I think it’s streaming on Netflix and Hulu.)
Soooooo…..what’s a girl to do? Freak out and spend five weeks being depressed and overwhelmed? Did that. With flair. After that, maybe search for some socially/economically/generally ethically conscious places to spend money while continuing to investigate ways to address the big problem. Luckily for you guys, I’ve compiled a heart-inflatingly impressive list of businesses who take human rights seriously and even give back to the world through various programs and charities. If you’re like me, you’ll be pleased to find that you’ve got so many options outside of recycled tire shoes and solid jersey knit yoga wear (but you better believe it’s in there!).
I don’t think this needs to be an all or nothing kind of decision. As I mentioned earlier, the workers themselves rely on the meager income they’re making–so, boycotting the companies that employ them won’t necessarily improve their situation. The idea is to be aware of what’s going on in the world, and to use our minds and our buying power to convince manufacturers that they won’t go out of business if they demand higher prices for their goods in order to pay their workers fair wages and improve the quality of their working conditions.
Having said that, we can support companies with good ethics while we strive to find a realistic way to address the issue at hand. Look for things that are labeled “Fair Trade” or “Union-Made”–though that certainly doesn’t guarantee you anything. Dishonest companies know the buzz-words, too :( I can’t vouch 100% for any of these brands because, you just never know. But, as far as I can tell, these are some of the good ones!
While many of the brands on this list are probably within the price range you’re used to, many more of them are likely to be well above it. That being said, higher prices are to be expected when sweatshops haven’t been utilized in the manufacturing process. (Case in point: handmade shoes. Don’t worry, nothing on this list is that expensive :)) Think quality (and quality of life) over quantity.
(Other options, of course, are to amp up your thrifting or to make your own stuff. In which case, you get a fun foray into finding ethically made materials–hooray!!!!….?)
I think it’s kind of fortuitous that I ended up writing this post during this time of year. Everyone’s looking for presents to give–why not find your loved ones a gift that gives back? We can use this opportunity to spread the word about labor rights in an exciting and uplifting way!
Without further ado…
Brands that ROCK!
31 Bits: (jewelry) Gorgeous bracelets and necklaces, designed by women in Uganda who are paid living wages, given health education, finance training and business mentorships. They offer a trunk show program where they send you some necklaces and an information kit and you can host your own 31 Bits party at home and give your friends an opportunity to buy some pretty jewelry and learn a little somethin’ somethin’ at the same time!
TOMS: (shoes/glasses) Anyone who hasn’t already heard of TOMS likely doesn’t have the internet either, so I doubt an introduction here would do them much good. If perchance you’re reading this and aren’t acquainted with the brand, I should tell you that they offer several styles of shoes and glasses and have a “One For One” program so that, for every purchase you make, you’re essentially supplying shoes/glasses for someone in need. They recently added a marketplace feature to their site that promotes brands with a similar mission to use business as a means of bettering the world (many of which are included in this here list)
fashionABLE: (scarves/leather accessories) Each purchase funds the creation of small business cooperatives for women in Africa, and the company only partners with manufacturers who employ women with fair wages and fair hiring practices.
Falling Whistles: This business was born from an experience that one of the founders had when traveling to the Congo and met with child soldiers who told him how the children who were too small to bear arms were sent to the front lines armed only with whistles. The whistles they sell serve as a symbol of protest and the revenue is used to educate people about the war, invest in Congolese entrepreneurs and promote justice, accountability and transparency in Africa’s Great Lakes region. BUY ALL THE WHISTLES!!
The Giving Keys: (jewelry/accessories) This company uses old keys to make their products and employs those who are looking to transition out of homelessness.
Same Sky: (jewelry and even cuff links for the gents!) K, this shop is one of the priciest (we’re talking $50-$500), but if you’ve got the money to spend, why not use it to help provide jobs for women around the world who are struggling to lift themselves out of poverty?
FORTUNED CULTURE: (jewelry) Founded by a woman who was raised in Los Angeles but whose roots are in the 3rd world countries of Eritrea and Ethiopia. Every purchase funds charities that address the various different human needs that are symbolized by the pieces in each collection.
HALF UNITED: (jewelery/accessories) Half of their profits from every purchase goes directly toward fighting the global hunger epidemic. Their materials are locally sourced, so they also support local small businesses and artisans!
Harper Belle: (jewelry) This one is another splurge site ($50-$200 a piece). Harper Belle has partnered with a company called Vitamin Angels to provide vitamins to children in need, and the company employs local artisans in Bali.
From You With Love: (jewelry) Each bracelet purchased provides one year of schooling for a Tibetan child in need.
The Base Project: (jewelry) The Base Project partners with two Namibian artisan cooperatives to build a bridge between artists in the developing world and the U.S. fashion market. Their products are fair trade and provide the artisans with additional income for school fees, health care and food.
LemLem: (women and children’s clothing and accessories/home decor) Founded by Liya Kebede (supermodel, actress and former World Health Organization Goodwill Ambassador) LemLem helps to inspire economic independence and preserve the local art of weaving in her native country of Ethiopia. Most items in this shop are $100-$200, but there are a few in the $30-$50 range.
Apolis: (MEN’S clothing/accessories) These guys….they just take care of their people. The create good jobs in several countries, including our own. They are committed to fair treatment and their products are downright sexy. They’re also a certified B Corporation, which is awesome. This shop has higher end items, so unless you’re in the market for candles and keychains, expect to spend a bit.
Krochet Kids intl.: (womens’, kids’ and mens’ clothing/accessories) This company teaches women in Uganda and Peru how to crochet, provides jobs and educates them so that they can be self sufficient.
: a socially responsible fashion line that provides jobs, education and skills training to women and men of Hohoe.
So many more to come!