Conscious consumerism and fair trade go hand in hand


Graphic by Savannah Reeves

Story by Colette St. John and Lara Bockenstedt

It’s easy to swipe a card and not think about how that product came to fruition or the fact it very well could have been made by a slave.

Power stems from the way in which we spend. Each day we are given the opportunity to make a difference simply through what we purchase.

Many of the estimated 45 million trapped by slavery around the world today are in labor bondage. These are victims working in dangerous conditions, receiving little payment and sometimes under threat of their lives to produce products such as clothing and jewelry commonly purchased in the United States and around the world.

This brings about the idea of a “conscious consumer,” someone who uses their purchase power to support ethical practices and fair trade. The idea of fair trade is to be socially and environmentally responsible, where workers are fairly compensated and safe while working.

Purchasing fair trade supports the fight against slavery so money won’t be placed into the pockets of abusers taking advantage of the weak and powerless.

Shopping fair trade seems difficult and truthfully, sometimes it is. One easy way to shop as a conscious consumer is to look for the fair trade stamp located directly on products. Often times buying fair trade involves a higher price point for items such as food. But over time, product by product, it becomes easier to effectively purchase fair through research and practice.

The biggest way in which I’ve taken steps toward growing as a conscious consumer is through clothing. I’ve exchanged my habits of malls and expensive clothes for secondhand locations and vastly lowered costs.

It’s extremely pleasing walking out of Plato’s Closet with 15 items totaling the cost of what 2 items at the mall would have been or standing at the checkout counter knowing I have not added to the harm and abuse of those trapped by labor trafficking. Instead, employing fair trade practices supports the freeing of these slaves.

While most of us aren’t lawyers to enforce proper justice or counselors assisting victims formerly trafficked, we can help the good fight simply by where we put our money.

As Christmas approaches and peak consumerism climaxes, let’s all be mindful of where our money is being placed by practicing conscious consumerism to see the end of slavery in our lifetime.

Colette St. John, Marketing Coordinator

Among the glamorous shopping haul videos, talks with friends who purchase new clothing weekly and advertisements informing gluttonous habits, it can be difficult to discern where these clothes come from.

It is disconcerting to me when friends label themselves jokingly as poor during conversation and later ransack sales at chain stores such as Forever 21.

This December, the majority of the dresses I wear were thrifted. However, some were not purchased with conscious consumerism in mind. This is an area I can improve in.

Many of us have been convinced that clothing doesn’t exist before it shows up in stores and is expendable once we’re bored. As long as thrift shopping and fair trade clothing exist, I decline any excuses for staying on trend at the expense of others.

Like Colette mentioned, labor bondage produces much of our material wealth. As evidenced in the film “The True Cost,” others may not be in bondage but continue to work for little pay and without rights. Even prior to assembly, cotton produced in India for clothing requires quantities of pesticide that are leaving community members sick.

Make no mistake, our purchases directly impact their lives.

A few months ago I wrote about fair trade clothing and the environmental impact of fast fashion. At the bottom of the article is a list of fair trade clothing brands. I encourage you to look, or to find available brands through a simple Google search.

We should be using clothing until it reaches the end of its life. Think of your purchases as an investment, one which you’re willing to patch and mend. This longer life span, and lack of extraneous spending, will leave you with the means to purchase fair trade.

Lara Bockenstedt, Op/Ed Editor