THE TOP BRANDS
Grounds for Change
Birds and Beans
Sweet Earth Organic
Green and Black
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Slavery didn’t just end in the Civil War — it’s alive and well with 30 million people worldwide being a part of the slave trade. And unfortunately, it touches every industry, from the clothes students wear to the food they stock in the fridge.
While a single person can’t solve the problem, students can be abolitionists when gathering gifts this holiday season. Support products that push for progress and boycott brands that don’t allow you to advocate for your values. Every dollar spent is a vote for one side or the other.
However, fair trade isn’t overwhelmingly lining the shelves of major stores.
“Unfortunately, we’re not seeing a huge shift in America,” said Morgan Ulyat, vice president of Ball State’s Students for Responsible Consumerism. “Lots of your bigger brand companies are not fair trade; they don’t have any lines that are fair trade.”
With a little shopping consciousness, students can support sustainability, education initiatives, animal rights and fight poverty all in one trip.
“But you are seeing some major corporations in America going toward ‘green,’ and organic,” Ulyat said. “Obviously, this kind of pressure by consumers can have an impact and has in other places.”
In the wake of “No Slave November,” here are some nose-to-nose comparisons of brands and some a tips that can make your gift giving season a little more ethical. Consider your receipt a list of good deeds.
Walk the talk: soleRebels vs. TOMS
The soles are made of recycle tires and are made from other eco-friendly materials, like hemp and leather from free-range animals on small local farms.
Because of its use of raw materials and manufacturing techniques from Ethiopia, soleRebels creates an export product for the country that funnels money into local communities instead of out.
Also, according to United Nations University magazine Our World 2.0, soleRebels pays its workers four times the legal minimum wage in Ethiopia and three times the industry average. The company also provides free health care for workers, transportation for employees with disabilities and pays for their children’s educations, which they view as an investment in the country’s future.
While soleRebels may not have the global reach of TOMS, its mode of operation focuses directly on combatting poverty at its source.
GlobalEnvision.org reports that TOMS and other free clothing distributors undercut local markets. A study titled “Used-Clothing Donations and Apparel Production in Africa” from the University of Toronto claims that areas receiving clothing aid see a 40 percent decline in local apparel production and a 50 percent decrease in apparel employment.
In recent years, TOMS has sought to address these issues by moving its production to regions that receive aid, like Ethiopia and Argentina. Extensive documentation of its efforts can be found on its website, as well as many official policies, such as its supplier code of conduct.
In the end, soleRebels is the best choice for those who want to know they paid for more than leather and laces when they strap on their shoes.
Beyond denim: Levi’s vs. Diesel
In 1991, Levis published the first set of detailed sourcing and operating guidelines in the industry, which sought to hold its contractors to a set of legal, ethical and environmental standards. These guidelines have evolved throughout the years and the current version can be viewed on the company’s website.
In 2011, the company introduced an initiative to reduce the large amount of water required to manufacture jeans. This includes teaching cotton farmers in India, Pakistan, Brazil and parts of Africa more efficient irrigation techniques to reduce waste. Levi’s stonewashed jeans are switching to actually being rubbed with stones, as opposed to more water-based industrial methods.
In early 2012, the BBC reported that Levi’s had publicly announced a ban on sandblasting in its factories. Sandblasting is a manufacturing process where sand is fired from hoses at high speeds in order to “finish” or alter the texture of an object. When manufacturing jeans, sandblasting is used to make the denim look worn, but has been linked to repertory disease and other health concerns for employees who work in the environment.
Out of 102 brands of jeans reviewed by fair trade watchdog GoodGuide.com, Diesel is dead last. Among it are other high-end clothing brands like Armani and Prada. They share common problems such as poor environmental scores, little-to-no auditing and a lack of transparency in business practices.
Frozen fairness: Ben and Jerry’s vs. Edy’s
Ben and Jerry’s
Partnering with Fairtrade International, the company embarked on a mission to source its “Big Five” commodities as fair trade: coffee, cacao, bananas, sugar and vanilla. Ben and Jerry’s released a statement in April announcing that by the end of 2013, all of its products worldwide would be fair trade certified.
The company also includes explicit details on the fair trade content of all of its flavors on its website.
Edy’s is owned by Nestlé, which has a decades long history of human rights abuses and poor environmental record.
As just one example, in 2005, the International Labor Rights Fund filed a lawsuit against Nestlé and other companies for failing to meet the Harkin-Engel Protocol, which called for the end of child slave labor in the cocoa industry.
However, in 2012, the company released the results of a self-audit, where it continued to find child-labor abuses in its supply chain. But the self-audit is a step in the right direction.
While Nestlé has taken steps to improve its human rights record, business magazine Bloomberg reports that only 20 percent of its cocoa comes from fair trade sources. The rest comes from its traditional supply chain, which is neither regulated nor transparent.
Next time you’re looking to treat yourself, scoop up some Ben and Jerry’s.
Your purchase has power, so do the research before you shop. Find a list of companies that are fair trade certified, not animal tested and eco-friendly. It can be a difficult search, so use trusted online guides like fairtradeusa.org, greenamerica.org and globalexchange.org.
Goodguide.com has a smartphone app that measures up healthy, green and ethical products. There are ratings for more than 145,000 food, personal care and household products, which can be accessed by simply scanning the barcode with your phone.