Shopping with Conscience

For a while I’ve had a tugging on my heart about shopping. Specifically what companies do with the money I spend. I think the first thing I encountered were the images that pop up regarding forced labor in garment factories. If you do a quick Google search for “human rights” and “factory slave labor” you quickly find a glut of images, articles and even videos like thisthis or this. According to wikipedia a modest estimate places the numbers of modern slaves above 20 million. Slaves! As in people who aren’t free, who are exploited for labor, trade, sex and things I can’t even imagine. If you think you have nothing to do with all that, take this little quiz or watch this video. When the only thing that matters for a company is their bottom line and selling more and cheaper stuff, the results aren’t pretty.

As I discovered these evils at first I wanted to plug my ear and yell back “that’s just trying to pull at my heartstrings. That’s not real. Crazy sensationalists.” But it kept rearing its ugly head and from multiple sources, that my heart soften and I became heartsick. I may have cried, sworn I’d never buy another thing and become overwhelmed by the evil in the world. While that vow isn’t realistic it shows that truth — even sad, terrible truth —  is a great impetus to fuel change in habit and action.

I’ve spent months with a hurting heart and confused on how to go about my life in a responsible way. I’m sure I’m not at the end of that journey, but for now my approach looks like this:

  • Pray. I’m not in a place where I can go change political policy in India or any other country with oppression. I can pray for those in these conditions and I believe that in itself is a huge contribution to the battle.
  • Learn to make do. I take a moment to think if I might have something that will work instead of buying something new.
  • Quality over Quantity. When purchasing new things, I resist the urge to just buy the cheapest thing. Those cheap things are cheap for a reason. One of those reasons may be that the workers used to produce it weren’t treated correctly. Look for things that are created with transparency and that will last for a long time — keeping that stuff out of a landfill and someone from having to create another cheap thing. (Note:  I’m not against capitalism, I am against capitalism driven by greed, lust, and materialism to the detriment of our fellow human, the environment and ourselves.)
  • Realize this has to become a mindset. In our culture of insane consumerism (ie.: any Walmart on Black Friday), it is extremely hard to step back and thoughtfully consider what I really need. Realistically that looks like thinking through every purchase I make.
  • Holding myself to a standard of Progress not PerfectionI’ve had anxiety attacks in stores feeling suffocated by not being able to buy anything because I don’t know where it comes from. Not a good place to be in. So in those moments I try to do the next right thing. Deny myself that shiny new thing in the moment, go home and research a responsibly sourced alternative. Currently I’m working on clothes shopping ethically and then I’ll pick another aspect of life to transition to ethical shopping. If I try and do it all at once, I crumple under the pressure. And when I fail, I remember grace and try again. I’m breaking a habit that my entire life has taught me, it will take a while to break.

It may take a little more work and a lot more self control, but I’ve found some companies that I’m so so excited to buy from and support what they’re doing. It’s an amazing feeling to know my hard earned money is going to help people and give me a high quality good.