Thursday, April 12, 2012

(Not) Shopping for social change

Using ethical consuming for justice is not so new (think of historically powerful boycotts from the Boston Tea Party, to Cesar Chavez and grapes, and the sit ins at lunch counters in the 1960s). More recent consumer pressure has leveraged change at Nike, Coca Cola and Apple regarding their supply chains and oppressive working conditions. Maybe you will become part of a powerful campaign such as one of these, or maybe you will just make some simple, basic changes in how much and what you buy, in solidarity and hope with abolitionists around the world. Whatever moves we make, I think that lifestyle choices of “everyday” justice can help us chip away at injustice and give us the hope we need to participate in a huge overwhelming issue.

Spring Flowers? As we celebrate Easter and welcome spring many of us love flowers on the table. Consider buying flowers from a grower near you, or better yet, pick your own in your own or a friend’s yard. Or, buy fewer organically grown stems (at a higher price) which helps guarantee they are not from a chemical laden farm. Flowers in grocery stores and discount chains come primarily from South America with little regulation of picking conditions for the primarily female laborers. [1]

In general, I think there are two routes to mindful shopping: first, using shopping dollars to purchase things which will benefit others such as on line or in store ethical retailers with direct relationships with global artisans. Until more research into the sources of everyday items is widely available,  sweatshop free shopping will tend to be for accessories, art, and some special clothing. So, while I would encourage visiting places such as Body Shop, Ten Thousand Villages or development organizations such as World Vision who have begun to incorporate fair trade retail items into their fund raising, I still am a fan of shopping less and getting creative, as I mentioned in my last post. Such restraint leaves us with more money to give to charities as well as to be more free from accumulation.

I am interested in both shopping less and learning as much as I can about how to avoid slavery-sourced goods, so, I offer a few resources that have been eye openers for me.

Two interactive websites:

1.       “Slavery Footprint”:   This is kind of sobering. It helps to open our eyes to exploited labor as a step toward reducing our slavery footprint. Take a self check at
2.       The “Free2Work” app:  This can actually scan barcodes on products and show you info on the labor practices of a manufacturer, see

Two practical books:

             1. Everyday Justice, The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices  By Julie Clawson

2. The Better World Shopping Guide,  Every Dollar Makes a Difference 2nd Ed  By Ellis Jones

 How we shop is not an automatic or easy solution to the suffering of enslaved workers…. But it offers a concrete way to participate in bringing some light, to live more fully awake and actively in solidarity with those who suffer injustice.

On the journey toward justice,

Teri is an adjunct professor. She enjoys her three kids and warm sunny days. She can be reached at



  1. Thanks for the links and the book recommendations. This is inspiring and really important to think about concretely.

  2. In writing this I am feeling more accountability being "public" about trying to shop more carefully, which is helpful in the challenges of everyday life.
    One of my sons and his friends have been passing the slavery footprint app around facebook and are really animated by it but also feeling guilty...awareness is important being stuck or under a cloud of guilt is not the point of this kind of work---so suggestions welcome on how to live in grace and have an strong conscience!

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  4. Thank you for continuing to open my eyes and reminding me to look within and examine, reexamine, and examine again what is truly necessary for me to live a fulfilled life. It's refreshing and restorative to step out of the social traffic jam so intent on acquisition, consumption, and instant gratification. I like the idea of life in the off-ramp, not only for myself, but for the sake of one human being sold and traded as a commodity.