Have an Ethical Holiday!

This past Friday was Black Friday, and while I did not go shopping, I did drive past the outlet mall and saw hundreds of cars jammed into the parking lot. It’s no secret that he holiday season has been highly commercialized, and because of this, every year around this time, consumerism spikes and huge corporations make bank. Last year, holiday sales increased 3 percent, reaching a whopping $626.1 billion, and this year, spending is projected to increase another 3.6 percent to $655.8 billion. In other words, while everyone claims the holidays are about love and family, most of us are saying otherwise with our wallets.

So what? What’s wrong with shopping? While there’s nothing inherently wrong with shopping, there some social justice issues hidden behind the huge sales racks of the cheap fashion industry.

The fact is, most of the places average Americans go to do their holiday shopping are not fair trade certified. We run to cheap stores with good deals like H&M or Forever 21 to purchase gifts for our friends and family. It might seem like a kind, holiday-spirited gesture, but in reality, the swipe of that credit card may be doing a whole lot more harm to the world than good. You see, as consumers, we wield much more power than we realize. Every time we spend money, we are essentially voting for what we want, and when you spend money at places with less than reputable manufacturing practices, you are essentially saying that that’s okay – that it’s desirable.

Let me break it down a little further. If a given store, we’ll call it Always 22, outsources its production to Cambodia because the workers need jobs and will thus work for less money than they deserve in often unsafe working conditions with little-to-no rights or benefits, and I pay $12.99 for a pair of flats, that money feeds into and supports an industry that takes advantage of poor workers.

Clearly, this is a problem for us social justice warriors of the world who would never want to support a system that steps on the toes of the financially destitute. Luckily, there are some easy solutions.

One great option is to shop at fair trade stores, or order fair trade certified items online. When items are certified fair trade, it means that the workers or artisans who produced the them were equitably treated and fairly compensated for their work. Here in downtown Harrisonburg, Ten Thousand Villages and Green Hummingbird are two awesome fair trade stores that sell clothing, accessories, home décor and many other items that would make great holiday gifts. Some cool fair trade websites to check out are also fairindigo.com and globalgirlfriend.com (all items are made by women. I know, it’s awesome).

If you can’t swing shopping exclusively fair trade, thrift shops are also an ethical, affordable (and fun) option. And hey, thanks to Macklemore, thrifting is so “in.” This way, if you see that cute pair of flats from Always 22, the money you pay for them won’t benefit the unjust system, but the Good Will where you bought them. Problem solved.

I encourage you to not only do acts of kindness for your friends and family this year for the holidays but to do your best to treat everyone with kindness, including workers and artisans, in hopes of making the world a better place. After all, that’s what the holiday season is all about in the end, despite what the big corporations want you to think. Last year I made it my goal to only buy ethically produced gifts, and not only did everyone love them, it gave me an opportunity to educate those around me about why shopping ethically is important. Here’s to an ethical holiday!

Feature image: Flickr Creative Commons

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