I’m writing this as yummy chocolate chip cookies bake in the oven, cookies made with fair trade chocolate chips bought from Ten Thousand Villages! It’s been more than a month since I began my quest to live a fair trade life for a year, and I have to say that I’m more than a bit overwhelmed by the challenges this has posed so far. Until I started looking specifically for items made under fair conditions, I didn’t realize how limited my choices would be. On the other hand, there’s a newfound sense of relief when weekly flyers arrive; knowing that most of the products advertised don’t fall under fair trade standards, I simply stick the flyers in my recycling drawer and forget about all the things I don’t need.
This brings me to the first conundrum of my quest—though it’s easy to buy fewer things, it’s harder to find necessities like jeans, hats and sunglasses. I still haven’t found fair trade jeans for my son, and I spent hours on-line searching for a fair trade sun hat only to find that the only ones in existence are in the United Kingdom or the United States which means astronomical shipping costs. I ended up compromising, buying a hat made of recycled paper and though I couldn’t find the brand under any sweat shop information, I’ll never know for sure if it was made ethically by people paid fair wages.
I thought I’d have the same trouble when I began looking for sunglasses, and at first, it seemed as if it would be impossible to find a pair under a hundred dollars made outside of China. Every brand name I came across—Kate Spade, Ralph Lauren, Armani Exchange and Alfred Sung—
was made in China. I don’t know the conditions under which these were manufactured, but from all the research I’ve done so far, it’s likely the conditions are questionable. I did find one pair made in Italy…Missoni for a mere ninety-nine dollars. Finally, after peering at countless sunglass arms and seeing “Made in China,” I found a pair with a purple frame (my favorite color) made by Bolero. There was no “Made in China” anywhere, and when I searched the name, I discovered they’re made in France. Now, I know that there’s a possibility of sweatshop factories in France, yet I’ve seen no information, no statistics about French factories. I bought the glasses but, like my sun hat, am not fully convinced of their origin.
The reality is that I’m going to have to do more research on brand names BEFORE heading out to shop, so that I’ll know exactly which companies adhere to fair trade or ethical working standards. There are the known deviants where I no longer shop—Walmart, Sears, Ikea, LL Bean—but there are so many brands out there that it’s like searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack when I’m facing racks of clothes, or hundreds of pairs of glasses, piles of throw rugs or shelves of luggage.
Here’s what happened when I began hunting for a new suitcase. The wheels on my existing suitcase are broken plus it weighs a ton which makes for extreme aggravation during long walks through airport corridors. Since I’m going on a couple of trips this year, and cannot imagine packing less as my unhelpful husband suggested, I decided I needed a new, lightweight piece of luggage.
Within seconds of my arrival in the luggage section, I discovered that the Chinese have the monopoly on this sector. Even Roots, originally made in Canada, has now succumbed to the Asian factory. While I don’t know if Roots uses sweatshop labor, I’m not willing to purchase their product until I do more research. The same goes for The Sharper Image and Olympia. And there is one company whose luggage I’ll never buy; on the tag attached to a Rockland suitcase, I read the following—Warning: This product contains chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm.
What is Rockland thinking? Do they think consumers are illiterate, or even worse, indifferent to cancer-causing chemicals? Could they not use alternative materials?
I didn’t buy a new suitcase and won’t until I figure out which companies comply with fair and ethical manufacturing standards. If I can’t find any, other than bags made in Italy that are not even remotely within my price range, then I’ll be dragging my old suitcase around the airport. Or maybe I can talk my husband into carrying it for me…