Fair Trade and Millennials

I came across this article today, and was intrigued. It quotes this NPR piece from earlier this week, which (full disclosure) discusses the findings of a Hersheys-funded survey.

In essence, millennials (the generation born between 1980 and 1996) don’t practice what they preach when it comes to ethical consumption. This is interesting for many reasons, not least of all because of the social media onslaught we’re responsible for, talking about the importance of buying goods that are handmade, organic, ethical, eco-friendly, recycled, etc etc. As it turns out, we may care more about being seen to talk about it than actually putting all that concern into action.

Let me add here, this isn’t altogether surprising. I care deeply about the story behind the goods I consume, and it bothers me that our electronics still can’t be sourced ethically, without harm to or loss of life. But I can’t afford to put that care into all aspects of my life, either because of practicality – no one makes ethical computers – price, or availability. So I’m typing this on a MacBook, despite the fact Apple has been accused of exploiting child and bonded labour in their Asian factories. They’re working on it, but progress is slow.  

In a survey of participants ages 18 to 35, millennials reported caring about ethical issues like environmental sustainability and social responsibility in chocolate production. But when choosing chocolate privately, these self-proclaimed ethical shoppers were all chocolate bark and no bite. (Sorry.) Most showed little preference for labels advertising ethical sourcing and instead preferred labels with ingredients they recognized — items like “chocolate” and “butter,” rather than “tertiary butylhydroquinone.”

We can’t see the survey itself, so we can’t see the wording, but let’s not presume to think ours is the only generation that’s ever cared about environmental sustainability and social responsibility. If you believe in climate change and know that we are responsible for most of the increases in greenhouse gases in recent decades, and that our thirst for faster and cheaper goods has led to a significant drain on the livelihoods of other humans, it’s only natural you’ll want to turn to goods that try to counteract that.

(Tertiart butylhydroquinone, by the way, is a preservative used with unsaturated vegetable oil and animal fat. Thank you, Wiki.)

Young hypothesized that millennials also set aside ethical concerns when choosing to indulge, despite a reputation in the food industry for caring about responsibly sourced food.

With funding from The Hershey Co., Young set out to test his hunch. First, the researchers conducted eight focus groups, each consisting of eight to 10 millennials. They found that younger millennials ages 18 to 20 expressed little concern about anything other than taste in their chocolate preferences. But older millennials expressed concern about whether chocolate was organic, fair trade, GMO-free and environmentally sustainable.

I’m guessing the older millennials are more likely to be those who absorb global news more often, read more, travel more, and likely also work in the countries producing the goods we consume. Information is the first of many steps to being able to do something about a situation you find oppressive, so this again is no surprise. I’m not discriminating against these high school/university groups either. I remember what I was like at that age. In between essay deadlines, parties, MUN meetings and just enjoying being young, how many of us set aside the time to go into the backstory of all the goods we consumed, how they were produced and the rights of those who made them?

Then the researchers presented another group of 214 millennials with unbranded, unpriced labels varying in traits — such as ingredients used, fat content, and ethical endorsement (for example, a label indicating Rainforest Alliance certification). Each millennial was asked to choose between side-by-side label comparisons of varying chocolate products — roughly 400 times. Most participants consistently paid attention to whether or not they could pronounce the ingredients in a bar, but only a small, socially conscious group — representing 14 percent of participants — showed strong preference for ethical labels.

The findings “confirmed what I thought,” says corporate sustainability specialist Sandra Rousseau from the University of Leuven, Belgium, who was not involved in the research. She cautions that the study disproportionately sampled college students but says the findings make sense. “You interview young people, and they tend to be quite aware of social issues and environmental issues. But if you push a bit harder, it’s a lot of talk, but not always action.”

That’s not to say that millennials are secretly truffle-munching, Nietzsche-reading nihilists.

Young says millennials are likely more concerned about ethics when buying goods that aren’t as indulgent as chocolate. Millennials still care more, he says, about ethical food production than older generations, who grew up before many of these issues were mainstream concerns.

Time to also remind ourselves that these younger groups are less likely to be employed full-time (especially in the samples the survey used, in the US), which makes their disposable income that much smaller than people my age, who are more likely to have a full-time job, and who can afford to implement their philosophy in their everyday lives.

This is by no means a defense of my generation, or a condemnation. I firmly believe that anything anyone does to consider the sources of our consumption, or to even think about why we buy certain things from certain companies or countries, is a step forward and more progress than we were making 30-40 years ago.

We can’t all afford to buy organic coffee, but if yours is drunk at home and not out of a disposable cup, that’s one less plastic-coated paper cup that will end up in the throat of a sea turtle.

Growing your own herbs at home cuts down on the carbon footprint of importing them from distant countries, who may not pay their farmers adequately, transported in climate-controlled freights.

Buying second-hand or vintage clothes can help reduce our dependency on sweat-shop labour.

See what I mean? It’s not all about going to the organic aisle, or being seen to do something. Who knows what these younger millennials do in their non chocolate-eating time to care about other people, or the planet?

There is a very important fact to consider here. The first Fairtrade coffee landed on supermarket shelves over 30 years ago (in the Netherlands via Mexico) – a number that nicely fits in with the millennial generation (defined as people born 1980-1996).

This means that for millennials, the concept of fair trade has been on the radar their entire lives. They came of age with the organic and local movement. Ethical buying is not an add-on, it’s not a marketing ploy, it’s an expectation.  And for many of them, the travails of coffee farmers have been well-documented.

What’s important to note is that this study shows that the millennial generation cares more than others about the social and environmental implications of our consumption. You could argue that caring alone isn’t going to do anything, but I’d say it’s enough.

Young university students who care grow up to become young, informed people who have the power to do something. I’d always rather err on the side of optimism here, rather than dismissiveness. Every generation looks down on the one following, and I’m probably more likely than most my age to do this; but let’s not ignore the potential of awareness and information-sharing to translate into more responsible decisions.

 

The ‘Betty’ Series by Michelle Holmes

Betty breathes in the sea air

Betty breathes in the sea air

I came across this beautiful series of black-thread embroidery by Michelle Holmes, a crafter based in the UK. Michelle has created a character Betty, who lives in the countryside, by the sea, enjoys gardening and crafts, and keeps chickens.

 

I began posting Betty illustrations a couple of years ago now. They are glimpses of Bett’s day to day ponderings to herself, random little or big thoughts in the moments between stuff.

Betty feeds the chickens

Betty feeds the chickens

The small, everyday details of her life are chronicled in individual pieces of embroidery which Michelle sells on Folksy.

There’s been an incredible wave of individuals returning to crafts to unwind, develop a new hobby and stimulate their creativity. I love discovering new ideas and artists like this.

Michelle’s work reminds me of the rural style of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, or Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea (two of the greatest books ever written about enjoying the simple pleasures of life).

Betty is like an imaginary friend. I draw inspiration for her from my grandma Doris, a childhood neighbour named Millicent and a character from a book named Lady Isabella Bird. Themes for Betty seem to be inspired by my week, but can also be quite random.

Betty feeds the chickens

Betty feeds the chickens

The pieces are also vintage-inspired (just take a look at that kitchen!) and there’s a real early 20th century feel about them, which transports you to a different time and place.

 

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Betty contemplates the day ahead whilst making a cup of tea

Betty looks forward to a stove top coffee

Betty looks forward to a stove top coffee

There’s something wonderful and meditative about documenting the simple, everyday activities like making a cup of tea, or gardening, that I really love. I’m completely mesmerised.

A good crop of Rhubarb, enough to make a pie for friends.

A good crop of rhubarb, enough to make a pie for friends

Michelle prepares landscapes and seascapes inspired by her travels to the British coast, and around Europe.

Betty spots something interesting on the horizon

Betty spots something interesting on the horizon

She also works with natural fabrics – jute, hemp, organic cotton – and in monochrome, adding to the elegant simplicity of her pieces. She adds details using hand-stitching, beading and applique.

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From Michelle’s studio

has a quiet moment

Betty has a quiet moment

Her work has been exhibited at various private collections, and the public collections at the Bankfield Museum, Halifax and the Platt Hall Museum of Costume and Textiles, in Manchester. She has exhibited work in the UK, Germany and the USA.

Betty catches up with friends

Betty catches up with friends

In 1994, she won the Best New Exhibitor Prize at the prestigious Chelsea Craft Fair and the Carroll Foundation Award.

Betty sets off on a journey as the clouds pass

Betty sets off on a journey as the clouds pass

Her work is featured in numerous publications and she has designed a range of cards and a magazine cover for Neiman Marcus, together with bed linen for Habitat. She also has a selection of work permanently on show at The Bluecoat Display Centre, Liverpool and Soma in Bristol.

Betty finds a sheltered spot....and was very pleased to see blue sky today

Betty finds a sheltered spot….and was very pleased to see blue sky today

A new pinafore in the making

A pinafore in the making

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Betty prepares for the arrival of Bees

Betty prepares for the arrival of bees

World Recycle Week and H&M

There’s a lot being said about fast fashion and the negative impact of our big clothing brands. With the Fashion Revolution also making headlines this year, H&M’s World Recycle Week comes at an exciting time.

The idea is for people to take in their used and old clothes, accessories, shoes and fabrics to their nearest H&M store, for recycling instead of throwing it away. (The fact that people would throw away clothes rather than donate or recycle is in itself still shocking. Surely there’s enough information available about the impact of all of this waste? But that’s possibly a post for another time.)

The idea is to prevent the huge amount of waste the fashion industry generates. Almost all our clothing, footwear, etc can be recycled into something new, rather than going to a landfill as much of it does.

Recycling just one t shirt saves 2,700 litres of water (the carbon footprint of producing a new one).

Watch this video to see what H&M plans to do with it:

I decided to try out this idea at my local H&M store – all of them are participating, which is great. The timing couldn’t be better for me, since I’m going through a huge spring clean, and also need a few work clothes.

For every bag of clothes you take in, the Hungarian branch gives you a 500 forint (roughly 1.5 Euros) discount voucher.

I have to add here that I haven’t bought new clothes in at least a year and a half. It just so happens that my beliefs in being a conscious consumer align well with my hatred of going into various shops, trying everything on in a small and badly-lit room, and lugging it around a mall. I would much rather pick something out online (in my PJs) or at most, while meandering around a nice vintage or second-hand shop.

So this in itself was an adventure, but an exciting one since it’s not a traditional shopping trip.

Do some preliminary digging into H&M’s ethos and you’ll definitely notice some red flags. We’ve all seen their ad campaigns for their Conscious Collection, and know they try to use organic cotton where possible. This is several steps ahead of many other cheaper brands out there, of course.

Their latest Sustainability Report shows a mixed bag of impact and results. The growth rates of their sustainable cotton use (out of their total cotton use), and the share of sustainably sourced materials (out of all their materials) has shown a strong rate of increase from 2011 and 2012, respectively. However, the rates themselves, when compared with the goal of 100%, is too weak for their impact to be significant enough in terms of their overall carbon footprint.

Source: H&M 2015 Sustainability Report

Source: H&M 2015 Sustainability Report

 

Source: H&M 2015 Sustainability Report

Source: H&M 2015 Sustainability Report

 

H&M’s carbon emissions for 2015 however, when compared to the previous year, show an impressive drop of 56% – and this compares to a tiny fall of 4% in 2014, and increases the two years before.

There’s a push for external certification of these credentials – all of H&M’s denim products are now scored well by Jeanologia’s Environmental Impact Measurement Tool – a software which helps brands increase the sustainability of their supply chain in denim.

On the other hand, various links in their supply chain show that while the group’s intentions may be good, their progress in the past few years (reports go back to 2009) has not been as strong as it could be – or as the group would like.

The progress in factory sustainability globally has risen by only 6% in four years, and the percentage of sustainable raw materials of their total raw materials is very low. Along their value chain, impact is mixed; where they have a low climate impact (12%), the social impact is high – as in the raw materials stage. Their fabric and yarn production, with a high social impact, shows one of the most difficult obstacles to overcome. H&M doesn’t work directly with the producers of their fabric, but through intermediaries such as the Natural Resources Defense Council to help improve performance. However, the environmental impact is still significantly high, with greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution in the production of cotton startlingly high, and largely unchanged (the group has had a 6% impact on their own water usage in 2015).

It’s important to also recognise that not enough high street brands care about their production enough to measure their impact and their value chain’s ethics. There’s certainly great room for progress and the fact that H&M still produce cotton instead of more conscious alternatives like hemp in their clothing, is an example of this. But as a whole, and measured against their competitors, H&M is still doing more to raise awareness of the industry’s carbon footprint. With World Recycling Week as well, buying new clothes at a time like this, from a company that at least tries to counter its harmful impact, is better than choosing other brands.

Project Just -the stories behind your clothes

If you’ve ever wondered what the story behind your favourite brand is, and where their material comes from, there’s a new website to help with just that.

I found out about Project Just through The Root Collective, a company which sells handmade Guatemalan shoes.

 

Let’s take one of my favourite brands for home decor and interiors – Anthropologie. The pros are that some of Anthropologie’s collections have a socially or environmentally positive impact. The cons:

URBN discloses very little about its supply chain and its social and environmental impact.

The company does not share any goals regarding how it is working to improve environmental and social conditions in its supply chain.

URBN is not a part of any multi-stakeholder initiatives and does not publicly share information on its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives.

The company has been embroiled in a number of controversies regarding some of the offensive products it has sold.

Project Just begins with a summary of who owns the company, and there are different sections targetting:

  • the pros and cons of each brand
  • size and business model
  • transparency
  • labour conditions
  • environment
  • intention
  • community
  • management
  • innovation

You can also download a data sheet with research done on each brand, shared via Google Docs.

A separate ‘Voices’ section shares testimonials by industry experts, journalists and advocates for ethical consumption. Anthropologie has been reviewed by the Huffington Post, Ecouterre and change.org.

There’s also the option for the company to comment on its ethical standards, though Anthropologie hasn’t said anything yet.

Interesting, isn’t it? Here’s a video describing how the site works:

It’s not a comprehensive list of brands by any stretch, but it’s a great start.

There’s also the option to request a brand you use often, for Project Just to research and add to their website.

What do we look for?

 

First and foremost, we are really interested to learn what a brand is doing to ‘do no harm’ as part of their business operations; how they are taking care of the people and the environment in their supply chain, how they are innovating in those regards, their knowledge of their own supply chain, and how transparent they are with their information. Secondly, we are interested to learn how they do more good; community and CSR efforts, and multi-stakeholder initiatives.

 

Therefore, we look for publicly available self-reported and third-party reported information for these main categories:

/ Size and Business Model: this category focuses on the size of the business and its operations; how many employees, their annual revenue, the type of business model, etc.

/ Transparency: this category focuses on how open a brand is about communicating about their supply chain, and its social and environmental impact.

/ Labor conditions: this category focuses on understanding how a brand is treating the people in their supply chain.

/ Environment: this category focuses on understanding how a brand is treating the environment.

/ Innovation: this category focuses on highlighting any innovative efforts by the brand to go above and beyond the status quo in any aspect of their operations and supply chain.

/ Intention: this category focuses on highlighting goals and commitments made by the brand to improve the social and environmental aspects of their supply chain.

/ Management: this category highlights the main leadership of the brand, the CEO, their salary and any reported issues or scandals.

/ Community: this category highlights the brand’s community and CSR efforts, as well as multi stakeholder initiatives.

 

We believe these main categories can really help inform the user about the brand’s ethics and sustainability. We divided these categories into detailed questions to help us get a comprehensive picture. You can access the full list here.

 

How do we do the research?

 

First, we dig really deep into their self-reported data: sustainability reports, website, as well as 10-Ks.

 

Second, we relentlessly scour every corner of the web, searching for third-party reported information. We look for investigative reporting on VICE, Ecouterre, The Guardian, Sourcing Journal, Business of Fashion, among others. We also look at industry reports such as Australian Fashion Report, Not for Sale, Labour Behind the Label, and Good Guide.

 

Third, from both the self-reported and third-party reported info, we try to answer our list of questions and we include all of our sources next to the information gathered. The list is meant to help us get a comprehensive picture of what’s available about the brand. Having said that, we are sensitive to the nuances of the industry and understand that some questions might not apply to all brands.

 

Finally, all of that research gets summarized with sources into a research summary document. We highlight some of the facts from that document on the brand page, and make all the remaining information available when you download the data.

 

Who does this work?

 

A team of awesome people, with backgrounds in fashion, business, history, and international development, who all share a huge passion for changing the status quo.

 

For each brand we assign two researchers; one assigned to self-reported information, the other to third-party reported information. Once each is done with their research, they switch roles and verify the research of the other person. All the information is verified one last time by a third person before creating the research notes document.

 

How frequently do we update the information?

 

We set up google alerts for all the brands we publish, so whenever new relevant data emerges we update the page.

 

We will also update the page once we receive additional or new information from the brand themselves.

 

Finally, and most importantly, we update the page in response to contributions from our community. We are humbled by the fact that we don’t have access to all information, and we really want this to be a crowd sourced and owned tool. So we are counting on you to contribute and comment, and we will update the page with those contributions.

With more and more information known and shared about where our products come from and more interest in tracing the supply chain, the room for a website like this to grow and gain interest is huge. I hope it grows and adds more brands from across the globe – it’ll be interesting to see what’s shared!

Reblog: How you can change the world by shopping!

I came across this post by Indego Africa, shared as a guest post on the One Campaign’s blog as well, so I thought I’d add to the shares! This is a great article about how and why what we buy matters, what we could consider when buying new things and how our consumerism can be a part of a strong activist movement.

This is something I’m deeply passionate about and have written a guest post about as well, for Hands Producing Hope. Read this and tell me what you think!

 

How You Can Change the World by Shopping!

This blog comes to us from our partner Indego Africa.

While many of us wish to make a positive difference in the world, it can be hard to figure out how to do it. As individuals, how can we drive change in our communities and around the globe? Where is a good place to start?

While many of us wish to make a positive difference in the world, it can be hard to figure out how to do it. As individuals, how can we drive change in our communities and around the globe? Where is a good place to start?

One answer – which may surprise you – is…shopping.

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Yes, that’s right – from the groceries we eat to the clothes we put on our backs, the decisions we make everyday about what and what not to buy can profoundly impact the world in which we live. This line of thinking – often called “conscious consumerism” – is on the rise as buyers are becoming increasingly invested in the way that products are made and the effects they have on people and the environment.

At Indego Africa, we believe deeply in the power of ethically made products that empower the people who create them. That’s why we partner with more than 800 female artisans across Rwanda, providing them with opportunities to earn fair-trade, sustainable income for their beautifully handcrafted products. We sell these pieces around the world, and pool 100% of the proceeds from sales, along with grants and donations, to fund education programs for the very same women.

While we are just one of a growing number of socially responsible brands, we want to share with you why we love what we do and hopefully inspire you to jump on the shopping-for-a-cause train too!

  1. Each product provides a woman with a real, living wage. We believe in paying our artisan partners fairly, honoring the incredible skill, patience, and creativity that goes into their work (some products, like our colorful plateau baskets, each take 2-3 days to make!)

    Making baskets. Imirasire, Rwanda

  1. With increased income, women are able to care for themselves and their families. Most of our artisan partners are mothers, and like all moms they want nothing more than to create beautiful lives for their children. We are deeply inspired by their determination and proud to see them earn enough not only to provide for their families’ basic needs – like food and housing – but also to invest in their children’s futures by sending them to school.

    Sewing. Ibyishimo, Rwanda.

  1. All proceeds go towards education. We believe that education is the key to empowerment. That’s why we provide our partners with a range of educational opportunities – both at our Leadership Academy and onsite at their workplaces – to help them develop the life-long knowledge and skills they need to thrive as confident businesswomen, creative entrepreneurs and powerful community leaders.

 

Block Printing

  1. There is something distinctly special about a product that is handmade.We love to shop products made with love and care – to feel the soul and craftsmanship in every stitch. It is a way of connecting with artisans around the world – of sharing in their culture and traditions and celebrating their remarkable crafts.

Making lovebirds. Ibyishimo, Rwanda.

As you can see, empowering women through artistry and education is a cause we are deeply passionate about. But now we want to turn it over to you: what causes are most important to you? What companies are out there fighting for them too?

As Olivia Wilde, actress and co-founder of Conscious Commerce, likes to say: “your dollar is your vote.” By choosing to direct the money we already spend towards products and companies we believe in, we can not only make a difference in the world but also send a powerful message to corporations that we will not support products that are harmful to humanity.

It may sound simple, but as consumers we have more power than we think. By introducing a little bit of passion and purpose into our purchases, we can make a whole lot of difference.

Dyeing cloth. Imirasire, Rwanda

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Navy Hanging Basket

Navy Hanging Basket

rsz_floral-panama-hat

Floral Panama Hat

Small horn vase

To see more of our products, made with love by women in Rwanda, please click here.

Guest Post: What Ethical Consumerism means to me

I’m thrilled to share my guest blog for ‘Hands Producing Hope’ on what ethical consumerism means to me, resources and ideas for thinking about our lifestyles in a more equitable way. I would love to hear your thoughts! ‘Hands Producing Hope’ is a great company which not only works with artisans to make beautiful products ethically, but also actively work to counter the poor conditions their artisans live in, to live healthy and full lives. Their aim is to bring about change in the lives of their producers not only through the sale of their products, but also through educating us as consumers about the need to make more ethical purchases and activate others to do the same.

They go beyond this responsibility to also provide social protection to their workers, some of whom have been rescued from being sex workers against their will. The program focusses on marginalised individuals, providing education to their children – and sometimes to the artisans themselves – and develop skills in the community which can be used in other trades, providing a sustainable livelihood.  Have a look at their incredible website and beautiful items! Without further ado, here’s my post:

It might sound glib, but one of the most powerful things we can do as humans is to decide how we want our world to look – whether that’s by voting, picketing, raising awareness, joining an NGO, etc – and one of the most interesting ways to do this is to choose how you spend your money and what you spend it on. There’s nothing particularly new about ethical or sustainable living, but what I love to see is the huge number of creative ways we can live with respect for others and our planet.

There is nothing special or unique about me – no,  I’m not fishing for compliments! I am an ordinary person with a normal life and income. I am not trying to preach about how to be a better consumer, because I’m still navigating through that myself. I’m in no real position to tell you how or what to buy, but I can share some ideas of where I look and how I started thinking my consumption. We are all capable of making ethical consumption choices – it’s not just for the fabulously wealthy, or for the hemp sandal-wearing, dreadlocked hippy. I’m wearing second-hand clothes as I type this and my tea comes from an organic plantation in southern India. But I’m writing on an Apple MacBook – don’t even get me started on their carbon footprint. It’s all a balancing act.

It’s important to stop and really think about whether you need the thing you’re lusting after (even if it’s the most beautiful scarf in the world). If you do, consider getting it second-hand, or repurpose an object for something else – I use chopsticks from takeaways as reed diffusers around the house – which may not directly benefit another person, but it reduces your carbon footprint and is one less set of items we need our planet’s finite set of resources to make.

If it has to be new, try thinking about who would have made it and under what conditions. If it’s likely to be mass produced in a factory by someone earning less than or just about minimum wage, I always have to think about whether it’s really necessary. For some items, like smartphones, it really can’t be helped. (There is a Fairphone, but the market is quite small and the phone itself is rather expensive – plus reviews are mixed.)

I’m also conscious of the cost of making a complete lifestyle change by buying solely Fair Trade-certified produce, or entirely handmade goods. I often tell people that we don’t need to completely envelop ourselves in a cocoon of ethically-produced goods, but it is important to try to make small changes, since they inevitably lead to bigger ones.

Simply switching to Fair Trade-certified coffee, or buying vegetables from a farmers market (or better yet, growing your own), can lead to larger leaps of changing the way we consume.

You can buy furniture from Ikea, but if the throw you use while watching TV was handmade for example, that’s fantastic – and the company you buy the throw from might have other ideas for your home that you like, so you slowly build up this habit of label- and background-checking.

I’ve learned that ethical living doesn’t mean you have to buy a lot and it doesn’t mean you have to surround yourself with ethical products either. Reducing consumption is often one of the best ways to start. You can live ethically by composting your food, growing your own herbs, recycling plastic bottles to make greenhouses, making some of your own furniture and breathing new life into everyday objects. Ethical living means not only keeping the needs of other people in mind, it also means living with respect for the planet which gives us so much already, while also forcing us to think honestly about our own needs. Look around you now and think honestly about what you could not live without – then think about creative or ethical ways you could have bought those things. I really like this flow chart:

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Since I spent some of my childhood in India, I have seen what poverty looks like and what it can do, to children my age, their families and the society around them. Seeing girls your own age drinking water from a puddle on the street, in tattered clothes, playing mother to their younger siblings instead of enjoying childhood the way I was able to, is not an easy image to shift. My own family was always aware of this imbalance and like many around us, we did what we could. My first experience of an ‘ethical business’ as such is an incredible shop called Fabindia, where my mother got many of her clothes. Fabindia use traditional methods to make their beautiful clothes, often using natural dyes, and also contribute financially to the communities they support.

There are plenty of documentaries, news stories and books about the cost of mass production on people – on children, vulnerable groups like the extreme poor, or even the working classes in seemingly far-away countries.

With the collapse of Rana Plaza in Dhaka, many people started asking serious questions about where our clothes come from and why we need to constantly buy from the same companies known for exploiting sweatshop labour.

A great deal of much-needed publicity went to ethical companies like People Tree out of this horrible disaster. I would recommend reading some of these books or reports and watching some of the incredible documentaries available, since they will often have tips and ideas for being an ethical consumer without needing to break the bank or significantly alter your way of shopping or thinking. If you are a blogger, join this incredible Facebook group to share resources and information.

It’s because of our position as consumers with money, access to information and resources, that we have to cast this sort of vote for a more equitable future. Think about it this way – who else is going to do it? We shouldn’t ignore this moral requirement. We enjoy the lifestyles we do because someone else has worked around the clock in abysmal conditions to mine tungsten, copper and other minerals for our iPhones. Our responsibility to other people and to our planet extends beyond the money we pay for these goods. We need to go beyond that and think deeper about our power as consumers. Even if you don’t agree with the moral imperative of giving back when we take so much, we need to consider the effect of our cheap, exploitative lifestyles on the planet – it just isn’t sustainable.

But it isn’t all dismal news – there is a lot we can still do to correct the mistakes of this exploitation. I love how creative this journey has allowed me to become with regards to my lifestyle choices. Social media makes it so much easier. I started my blog in 2008, which introduced me to the marvelous wonderland of Pinterest, Etsy and Ravelry – and let’s not forget the power of a Facebook group to gather like-minded people. Even in Budapest, there are second-hand furniture groups, from which I got six hand-painted silk pillows for a steal, and met a fascinating Croatian woman.

We have recently moved into a much larger flat so I’m going a little Pinterest-mad with redecoration ideas – some of which can be bought and some of which are going to be hobby-work challenges for both of us. I stumbled upon a tutorial to make pillow covers and even though I’ve never come close to making one before, I found a fantastic fabric shop in Barcelona, got hypnotised by the owner’s stories of the hand-weavers and dyers they work with and now there’s a pile of fabric waiting to be turned into something beautiful. How exciting is that?!DSC_0092

So get creative – if you think you could start making some of the homewares you covet from Anthropologie, there is a wealth of information on the internet so just jump in and see how it goes. Blogs like this, and companies like Hands Producing Hope, are a great resource for starting this journey – and as you read and learn more, new and creative ways to live more responsibly, ethically and sustainably will come to you. Tap into social media networks too – we are all interested in this stuff and enjoy helping each other, so I hope to see you online!

About Sanjukta: 

 

Sanjukta was born in India and grew up in Europe and the UK. She has been involved in political activism since her teenage years and is passionate about fostering a global culture of respect for each other and our planet. She has been blogging since she was an angry undergrad and would love to connect via Pinterest, Etsy or Instagram!