'Tis the Season for... Ethical Shopping?

As the Christmas and holiday season rapidly approaches, I realize it’s about time to declutter again. While the idea of decluttering and ‘minimalism’ isn’t new, it grew massively popular earlier this year when Marie Kondo’s show, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” hit Netflix. It prompted people to tear their closets apart, throwing things out in an effort to declutter their lives, all the while asking themselves: “Does this spark joy?”  This question is one of the six basic rules of tidying, according to Kondo’s website, and can be found here, along with many other tips and resources.

The benefits of decluttering and minimalism are being talked about across the internet. The basic theme they share is this:  

Decluttering your physical space also declutters your mental space. Minimalism allows you to prioritize and invest in what is most important in life, rather than spending time and financial resources on material goods that ultimately hold little value.   

While decluttering may be a good practice, it often does not impact the never-ending flow of material goods we buy, meaning we continue to perpetuate the raging consumerism that plagues our world. This is where I’m patting myself on the back, because I jumped on the minimalism and decluttering bandwagon before the Mari Kondo’s Netflix Special came out.  

I had recently moved from the US to Cambodia to work at Chab Dai, and the process of a move naturally forced me to minimize and take only the essentials. Living in Cambodia also made me a more conscious consumer – partially by chance, but increasingly because I was learning more about the problematic practices of the garment industry while living in a country that has been so central to the conversation.

Being so far removed from the sprawling malls of my former home countries, it is much easier to manage my shopping urges. I know firsthand how much harder it is to stay away from the ever-changing trends, or even the temptation to upgrade my wardrobe for winter, spring, summer and fall, while living in those cities. I don’t have to worry about that in Cambodia, as it’s just one season – hot!

Regardless of these external factors influencing our shopping habits, we simply cannot turn a blind eye to the ramifications of perpetuating the current ‘fast-fashion culture’ that society subscribes to. The environment can no longer keep up and the human cost of fashion can no longer be ignored.

We saw this human cost with the collapse of the Rana Plan factory complex in Bangladesh in May 2013. After, there was greater scrutiny on large company’s out-sourcing partners, along with a loud call for investigations into supply chains and greater transparency.

Many men, women, and children work in garment factories for long hours and little pay. Here in Cambodia, it is common to hear about workers passing out in a dead faint due to the excessive heat and their poor working conditions. Earlier this month, the U.S. blocked the import of goods from multiple industries, products from five different countries that were allegedly made with forced labour. According to an article on Reuters, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) blocked items including:

  •  Rubber gloves made by a company in Malaysia

  • Gold from mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

  • Clothes from a firm in China

  • Diamonds from Zimbabwe

  • Bone black (charred animal bones) that were manufactured in Brazil

Five different industries, five different countries, potentially hundreds of people working under inhumane conditions to make products that go into retailers and restaurants and businesses around the world —places that you and I shop.

There is a human cost to what we buy, and instead of asking yourself, “Does this bring me joy? Do I need this?” You can also ask, “How was this made? Where did it come from? And what are the responsible, sustainable and free trade businesses that I can invest in?”

As a society, we have asked for more transparency, so what are we going to do with it now that we have it? 

What Can I Do?

It’s time to think about the ‘how’ and the ‘who’ behind what we buy. This holiday season, use your purchasing power to support sustainable business practices.  

 You can:

  • Check out ethical fashion guides and learn more about the products you buy:

          Know the Chain

          Baptist World Aid 2019 Ethical Fashion Guide

          Fashion Transparency Index 2019

          Tearfund’s 2019 Ethical Fashion Report

  •  US-Based Ethical Fashion Brand: Everlane

For more resources on human trafficking, forced labour, and shopping sustainably and ethically, you can read more here:

U.S. Department of Labour — List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labour

The Guardian — Adidas, H&M and M&S among the world’s most transparent fashion brands

The Washington Post — Cocoa’s Child Laborers

BBC’S Article — The real price of buying cheap clothes

Shermaine SinghComment