What does an ‘ethical product’ mean to you?
Because I’m seeing a whole lot of claims by brands selling ‘ethical products’ that are way short of the mark. They have beautiful websites with children frolicking in the woods playing with toys made from sustainable wood wearing whimsical frocks – but behind the scenes are women in sweatshops and farmers getting cancers from pesticides in their cotton fields. It’s not an ethical product if:
- It was made by people who aren’t being paid a fair wage
- It was made by people whose health is negatively impacted on by the manufacturing process (toxic dyes, inadequate ventilation in factories, pesticides in cotton farming)
- It was made using materials or processes that release toxins into the environment (toxic run off from factories into waterways)
- It was made using materials that come from animals (there’s no such thing as ‘ethical leather’)
There are a whole lot of businesses out there that tick all the right boxes for being good to the environment – but don’t seem to care much about the conditions of the people making their product. Some of these businesses have ‘ethical product’ claims all over their website, but when you ask them for more information on where they make them and how they ensure that the people making them are treated well – they have nothing to say. Or they say some version of ‘they’re made in China but it’s all ok because they tell us it is’.
I’ve sent off a lot of enquiries over the last month asking businesses that brand themselves as selling ‘ethical products’ to tell me more about their supply chains. Some respond that they have certifications that ensure that they treat workers fairly – but when I look into those certifications, they guarantee only the environmental aspect of their materials….and say nothing about the people making the products.
Many don’t reply at all. Which says a lot.
What I’ve come to learn is that businesses that DO ensure that their supply chains are ethical are proud that they have done so and will let you know clearly about this on their websites. They’ll either tell you in the ‘About Us’ section of the site or they’ll have certifications clearly displayed. These are the images you’re looking for:
If something you want to buy doesn’t have these assurances all over their website, go ahead and email them. Companies that ensure ethical practices will respond with gusto to your enquiry and excitedly tell you about all they do to make sure people are treated fairly in the factories they manufacture in. They might tell you the names and addresses of their factories, the companies that oversee third-party inspections on them and let you know they have mapped their supply chain. They’ll thank you for caring about how the things you buy are made.
Businesses that have no idea about the conditions in the factories that they manufacture in will stay very silent on the issue or offer you vague reassurances to placate you enough to buy their stuff. Don’t fall for it. They’re hoping that your definition of an ‘ethical product’ will be flexible enough to let them pass.
An ethical product is one that causes no suffering to people, animals and the environment.
Everything else is latching onto the ‘ethically made’ bandwagon and telling lies.