Ethical consumerism is all about choosing goods that are ethically sourced, ethically made and ethically distributed. When enough consumers shop in an ethically conscious way, it can cause companies to take notice and address their supply chain practices. These changes can in turn help parents around the world earn a living wage and reduce the likelihood that their children end up in dirty, dangerous and degrading jobs.
Sadly, many children and families will continue to depend on the money they earn from exploitative work. Addressing the child labour problem isn’t as simple as removing a child from a hazardous job. It involves a complete paradigm shift: farmers, workers, consumers, businesses, governments and NGOs working together to ensure that the children who must work, only do so in safe and supervised environments.
Add value with your values
More and more, Canadians are stopping to think about what we’re buying – or whether we should buy it at all. People are looking beyond price to seek products that reflect their values: mindfulness, healthiness, environmental impact and the well-being of the children and adults involved in making the products.
It isn’t easy to be a conscious consumer, especially when so many companies aren’t open or honest about their supply chain practices. Even so, we can all take small steps toward leaving a lighter shopping footprint. Here are a few ways to get started.
1. Think before you buy.
You’ve heard this one before, but it bears repeating. Rather than indulging in impulse spending, work at cultivating mindfulness. Ask yourself, “Do I need this? Will I wear or use this on a regular basis? What is the impact of this item on children, communities or the environment?” And be honest. Mindfulness is both a daily habit and a lifelong process. But taking a moment to think before you buy isn’t just about ethical consumerism. It’s wisdom.
2. Choose certified.
If a product carries a seal from Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance or UTZ, work has been done to ensure that it was not made using child labour. Here’s a quick rundown:
Fairtrade is about better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world.
This certifying body works to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land-use practices, business practices and consumer behaviour.
UTZ focuses on enabling farmers to learn better techniques, improve working conditions and take better care of their children and the environment.
Where these certifications aren’t available on product packaging, take the time do a little research. Sites like goodguide.com allow you search thousands of products and see how they rank based on social, health and environmental factors. It contains a ton of scientific information and uses a sophisticated rating system, but the site streamlines all the information so that you can easily choose products that reflect your preferences and values.
3. Shop local, learn to fix or buy second-hand.
Support small shops and the local economy by choosing items made in Canada. Yes, certain things may cost more. But do we need a lot of cheaply made things, or will fewer well-made, ethically produced items suffice? Before you toss something out, find out whether you can get it fixed. Or rely on Canada’s thriving second-hand economy through Kijiji or VarageSale to help you trade what you have for what you need. And don’t write off the good old-fashioned garage sale. It’s a great way to meet and possibly help out your neighbours too!
4. Eat sustainably.
To eat sustainably is to choose foods that are produced in an ecologically and ethically responsible way – kind to growers, kind to animals, kind to the earth, and kind to your health. It isn’t always easy, but we can all do our best to buy local, buy in season and buy options we can afford. There are so many ways to eat sustainably beyond choosing certified organic and fair trade options. Maybe try your hand at growing your own vegetable garden. Look for the Ocean Wise symbol when ordering your seafood. Or consider giving up meat for just one day each week.
5. Ask tough questions.
An increasing number of Canadian companies are taking steps to ensure their products are free from child labour and other unethical practices. When you ask these tough questions, it lets businesses know that these issues matter to their customers:
It takes all of us
- What efforts have you made to ensure your products are not connected to child labour?
- Do you have a code of conduct or policies in place to stop exploitative practices? If so, how they monitored and what steps are taken if your suppliers violate these policies?
- Are you publicly reporting your efforts to prevent or address child labour in your supply chain? If so, how can I access this information?
Child labour isn’t just an issue “over there” on the other side of the planet. We can either continue contributing to the problem or help solve it by leveraging our purchasing power. The good news is that we have the ability to address the worst forms of child labour, right here at home.