In 1995, Gap, Inc. was criticized by the media and moral rights groups for its alleged unethical sourcing practices. They were accused of contracting suppliers involved in human labor violations like child labor, bad working conditions and paying subsistence-level wages. Despite the reports of violations committed by Mandarin International and the testimonies of some of its workers, Stanley Raggio, senior VP for international sourcing and logistics, repeatedly made statements denying any non-compliance on the working conditions on Gap’s part.
While the obvious culprits in cases like this are the apparel companies who want to maximize profit margin by taking advantage of cheap labor costs, we cannot overlook the consumers’ part in the sweatshop culture. Consumers play a big role in the whole situation without even being aware of it. Demand for products drive companies to produce and sell more. Our buying behavior influences the society and how we spend our money create huge impact not just on the company we patronize but on all the stakeholders such as the people who make the products we buy. As consumers we have to realize the power that we have and the responsibilities that come with it. We often talk about customers’ rights but we rarely discuss consumer obligations. The Consumer Council of Fiji listed the following as consumer’s responsibilities:
- Critical Awareness –consumer should be more alert and inquisitive about the price and quality of the goods and services they use.
- Action – consumers must not be passive in ensuring that they get a fair deal and to avoid exploitation.
- Social concern –consumers should be aware of the effect of their consumption on the society.
- Environmental Awareness –consumers should understand the environmental and consequences of their consumption and recognize their responsibility to conserve natural resources and protect the earth for future generations.
- Solidarity –consumers should stand together to develop the strength and influence to promote and protect their interest.
If we care about the people who make our clothes or any other products we use, we have to make sure that they are being treated well otherwise we are also condoning unfair business practices such as setting up sweatshops. We have the power in our hands, we can let these companies know that if they not doing their business legally and ethically then they will lose their customers and might end up in bankruptcy.
I hope that we also take into consideration the effects of our buying behavior not just to the society but also to the environment. Our generation lives in abundance and we just consumed so much, never thinking about the consequences of such actions. Just think about how much energy and resources are needed to produce a piece of clothing and its wastes by-product.
We can take advantage of the power we have to make a positive change in this world. As consumers, we can contribute to the society in our own little ways like the following:
- Look into the company’s background and its business operations. Before buying a product, try to know the company behind it. Do they follow the laws? Are they ethical? Do they treat their employees well? How do they source their materials/products? Do they care about the environment? Remember that whatever principles a company embody, you are supporting it when you buy their products or services. So when you buy a shirt, a phone or a pair of shoes, from a company that overlooks human rights violations and labor laws, you are condoning their practice and encouraging them to keep on doing it.
- Buy local. You don’t only help the local industries to flourish; you are also helping the environment by reducing the carbon footprint of the products that you buy. A carbon footprint is defined as the total amount of greenhouse gases produced to directly and indirectly support human activities, usually expressed in equivalent tons of carbon dioxide (CO2).
Check this video out and be informed about carbon footprint, its contribution to climate change, and how you can make informed choices.
As mentioned in the video, you should ask three things when you are shopping; How was it produced? From where did it come? How did it get here?
- Support businesses that are socially responsible. Let them know that their efforts didn’t go unnoticed and which will encourage them to keep on improving their CSR programs/projects. This can also inspire other companies to follow their lead.
- Buy products with less packaging, the simpler the better. We should train ourselves to scrutinize the products we love and check if the packaging is just too much. I once bought a candy stick which is wrapped in a paper but when I opened it there is another plastic wrapper and the candies themselves are individually wrapped in plastic. I got so annoyed because it was very inconvenient then I realized how much waste there was just for a tiny product so I vowed never to buy that candy ever again.
This video features a Zero Waste No Packaging Supermarket. These people are so innovative. I wish there are more business owners like them who are not simply profit driven but also care about the impact of their business to the society and environment. I am at awe. I went to YouTube to check out products with less packaging and I stumbled upon a zero packaging system.
- Spread awareness about corporate greed and misbehavior. Use technology to your advantage. The next time you feel like updating your status in your social media account, share news articles or videos about unfair business practices to spread the word.
- Quality and quantity. The next time you are about to buy something, ask yourself if you are going to use it for a long time because buying a cheap product that you will end up tossing in the trash just after using it for a couple of times is probably more expensive than buying quality and but more expensive one.
- Check the labels and stop buying products that are harmful to your health. They don’t just harm you, they harm the environment. Read the list of ingredients for instance and research about their effects on your health. A lot of us don’t notice it but most of the personal care products available in the market contain chemicals that are harmful to our body, some can even cause cancer. This should alarm us because we use these products on a daily basis and we become willing victims.
Watch this very informative video on the harmful effect of chemicals. I bet you wouldn’t be the same after watching it.
We can find substitute to this harmful products such as organic ones. We can’t use the excuse that organic products are too expensive because there are few companies out there who try to produce and sell organic products at affordable prices.
There are number of ways to help in our own way. We don’t have to be Noble Peace Prize winners to spark a change. We don’t have to aim for dramatic transformation all the time; it’s those little things we do regularly that actually generate more impact.