How to shop ethically?
I recently wrote a post about conscious shopping and how to ask yourself questions like: "Do I really need this product?/Is it durable?/Is it repairable?". I did leave out one question, however. And this is: "Was it produced ethically?" While the other questions are pretty easy and straight-forward, it does get a lot trickier when you ask about labour rights and environmental standards. How could you possibly know that? I mean, companies, often times, don't know themselves how the subcontractor of the subcontractor of the subcontractor operates. (I'm particularly taking about fashion here.)
Well, anything "made in [insert European country]" was definitely manufactured in decent human conditions and without (massively) polluting the environment, right?
Working conditions in textile factories in countries like Romania and Bulgaria (both EU members!) are hardly better than in Bangladesh. Maybe security measures are a bit stricter, but wages are ridiculously low. I personally know of cases where people were paid roughly €200/month for a full-time job. And we're talking about a EU country here where prices are comparable to other EU member states!
But "made in Germany" / "made in USA" does stand for something!
Well, not necessarily. What does even "made in Germany" mean? The fabric could be woven in Bangladesh, died in India with toxic dye, cut in China and - wohoo - seamed up in Germany. If any! "Made in Germany" could also mean that only the finishing touches (like sewing on buttons) were "made in Germany".
What about checking a company's website and its Corporate Social Responsibility report?
Companies will only tell you what they want to tell you and the less they tell you, the more suspicious you should be. Even if they have a "Code of Conduct" and high aspirations, it still doesn't mean that this is being followed through.
Independent seals like "Fair Wear", a "Fair Labor Association" membership or organic cotton certifications are the most reliable clues in identifying ethical manufacturing.
Only these memberships and certifications can demonstrate the compliance with sustainability standards: the audits are independent, random, unannounced and the results are posted for public access. That's transparency. (Unless there is heavy corruption and bribe involved, but, hey, you MUST believe in something. At the end of the day, you never really know what is going on, you have to trust something/someone at some point.)