Ethical Shopping

Are you part of the problem or part of the solution?

Researched and compiled by Gemma Kelly (Tearfund Ireland) and Ruth Garvey-Williams (VOX magazine).

(From the October - December 2017 issue of VOX.)

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THE SOBERING TRUTH
Every person in Ireland has probably worn, eaten, touched or used something that is the product of people trafficking, slavery or exploitation. Our chocolate bars, our morning coffee, our clothes and our mobile phones… there is a strong probability that at some point, somebody involved in producing these “essentials” of modern life was forced to work as a slave and /or subjected to horrific working conditions. And it is the poorest and the most vulnerable people who suffer most from our consumer-driven lifestyles.


ARE YOU SITTING UNCOMFORTABLY?
At this point many people will be tempted to turn the page and choose a nice “feel good” article. Unfortunately, turning the page won’t change the harsh realities, so stick with us as we begin to unpack what it means to shop ethically.

If, like us, you have to count your pennies and cents, let alone your euros and pounds… you’ll know how hard it can be to make ends meet. It is so much easier to snap up a bargain rather than ask the painful questions about why it is being offered to us so cheaply.

It is so much easier to snap up a bargain rather than ask the painful questions about why it is being offered to us so cheaply.

But for those of us who follow Jesus, burying our head in the sand is not an option. The Bible makes it clear that we cannot please God with our worship and fasting while we are exploiting our workers (Isaiah 58). And while it is unlikely that we are personally mistreating people, whenever we buy these products, we are benefitting from and helping to perpetuate the misery.

Sharing at this year’s New Wine Ireland conference in Sligo, Gemma Kelly said, “At Tearfund Ireland, we believe that every human being is made in the image and likeness of God and we believe they should be free from poverty, injustice, violence and the horror that is human trafficking. Trafficking goes against the core of us as human beings and as Christians.”

It would be easy to become overwhelmed with the scale of the problem but individually and as churches, denominations or groups of churches across Ireland, we can take practical steps to ensure we are pursuing righteousness and justice. It will mean adjusting our attitudes, changing the way we shop and being willing to campaign for what is right.

So here are some changes you can make (if you haven’t done so already). You won’t be able to do everything all at once, but commit to making changes. And choose one thing that you can do right away!


ADJUST YOUR ATTITUDE
The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute documentary, produced in the US in 2007, which gives a thought-provoking overview of the impact of consumerism - it is well worth a watch (visit www.storyofstuff.org).

What is your relationship with “stuff”? Have you become caught up in the consumerism and materialism of our society? So often the influence of our culture creeps unseen into our lives and our churches. We opt for convenience and comfort (even luxury) and we are unconcerned about the impact on others. Ask God to search your heart, to show you areas of greed and compromise and to adjust your attitudes.


Slavery and Trafficking
Human trafficking is the fastest growing crime in the world. The “industry” is worth 150 billion dollars. People who have been trafficked are involved in the sex trade but also forced labour, domestic servitude, the drugs trade and even the removal of organs. The average age for a trafficking victim is 11 - 14 years and 1.2 million children are trafficked every year. Estimates for the number of people living in slavery today range between 28 and 45 million people.

Child Labour
In West Africa alone, an estimated 2.1 million children are employed on cocoa plantations, performing the backbreaking and hazardous job of harvesting cocoa beans that are used to make our chocolate products! (Source: Stop the Traffick)


FIND OUT THE TRUTH
In law, not knowing is no excuse but when it comes to matters of justice, righteousness and morality (God’s law) why do we prefer blissful ignorance? Information about exploitation, slavery and human trafficking is widely available and although it is not always easy, we can also find out which corporations are open and above board and which ones are operating in secrecy about their supply chains.

Start by contacting your favourite store and asking them specific questions about the sourcing of their products - you can write, email or even tweet your questions. And the more people who contact them, the more likely they are to change or improve!


LOOK FOR THE MARK
While certainly not perfect, certification marks such as Fair Trade, UTZ (available in Lidl and Aldi) and Rainforest Alliance do mean that the products you are buying are more ethical and haven’t been produced as a result of slave labour or at the expense of environmental damage. These products are now easily available. There really is no reason not to shop ethically when it comes to chocolate and cocoa products, tea, coffee, bananas, sugar and more… Check for the mark in your church, youth club, school, workplace and at home!

And if your favourite brand is not certified… write to them and ask why?


JOIN THE FASHION REVOLUTION
The collapse of the Rana Plaza clothing factory in Bangladesh in 2013 with the deaths of over 1,100 workers was a wake up call for the fashion industry. If we buy a T-shirt for €5, somebody, somewhere is paying for it whether through long working hours, poor wages, poor conditions or worse.

Fashion Revolution (www.fashionrevolution.org) was formed in response to the Bangladesh tragedy with the aim of changing the way the fashion industry operates. Each April, the #whomademyclothes campaign is forcing major brands to become more transparent and accountable about their supply chain and manufacturing practices. People are encouraged to contact shops and businesses to ask who made their clothes.

The annual Fashion Transparency index measures the world’s leading brands according to what information they make available across a range of issues from policy and governance to traceability and assessment of their supply chain (including working conditions, wages, etc.). Of 100 major brands surveyed, none scored over 50% and only eight scored over 40%.

This unwillingness to tell consumers about issues like working conditions in their supply chains sends up red flags but it also provides us with an opportunity to lobby for change. The more we demand to know this type of information, the more global corporations will start to take note, especially when we choose to shop (or not to shop) according to the information we receive!

Tearfund New Zealand has conducted a similar evaluation and you can download their Ethical Fashion Guide from their website www.tearfund.org.nz. Tearfund Ireland also has hard copies of the guide… contact them if you’d like to receive one (www.tearfund.ie).


Exploitation and violence
The minerals cobalt and coltan are used in majority of modern mobile phones. These are being mined in the Congo in rebel-held areas where child labour and forced labour are used. Reports show that children as young as seven are working in perilous conditions. And the profits are fuelling armed conflict.


The Transparency Index

Here’s how some familiar brands fared - the higher the percentage the better the transparency in terms of policy and practice.

41 - 50% 

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21 - 30% 

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0 - 10% 

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(Source: Fashion Revolution Transparency Index)


CONSIDER ETHICAL ALTERNATIVES
While it is important to campaign for change in all suppliers and brands, there are now a number of companies that seek to operate their entire business on ethical principles. Here are two that we can recommend.

Visible Clothing (www.visible.clothing)
Set up by two friends in response to the Bangladesh disaster, this company offers a high level of transparency about who is making their clothes and about the true cost. The average cost of one of their T-shirts is €15 with shirts from €30.

Fairphone (www.fairphone.com)
Guaranteeing fair materials, good working conditions and a long-lasting design, the Fairphone aims to tackle poor practice in the phone industry with strong ethical principles across its entire business. All this comes at a price (€530) but these phones are built to last and are designed to be repaired easily (no built-in obsolescence here).


DITCH THE EXCUSES
“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” Ezekiel 16:49

I didn’t know

It costs too much

I’m not hurting anybody

It’s inconvenient

Certification marks are not perfect

It doesn’t taste as good

But I want…