Equal Exchange goodsIt’s usually a challenge finding out the source of mass produced goods. The assembly-line paradigm of production has given rise to cheaper, plentiful goods, but it has also rendered the producers (that is, the labor) into little more than single-task cogs in the machine of production who have little to no ownership over the final product. Throw a globalized economy into the mix and one simple cotton sweater, for example, can contain cotton from Burkina Faso, dyes from India, wooden buttons from China, and textile labor from the U.S. Each point introduces an opportunity for increased returns/less investment/more exploitation/whatever-euphemism of your choice and we get sweatshop labor, child labor, and human trafficking among other things.

Being the crunchy and chic person that I am, I want to make sure that I’m not financially supporting detrimental business practices. Fair trade is a good starting point, so early last year I began looking for companies that have fair trade certification (there are lots of resources online for buying fair trade products). But like so many other bandage-to-gushing-wound efforts, I soon learned that the fair trade movement has a fair share of criticisms and places for improvement. For one, fair trade certification is expensive and is something that many small companies, farmers, co-ops, etc. can’t afford. Secondly, even with certification, marking up the price of a good doesn’t necessarily mean that more money will go to the labor that produced it. So rather than strictly looking for ‘fair trade’ goods, I’m expanding my quest for buying good stuff to include ‘ethically sourced’ goods.

I’m  compiling information about different companies that actively seek out ethically-sourced resources for their products. Starting with tea, this ‘Ethical goods’ series will cover various consumer goods that are created with worker’s rights at the forefront. Yes, I know economies based on consumerism means someone gets to consume (the rich) while someone else has to produce the consumed good (the poor); it is a bigger problem that throwing a few more pennies to exploited workers won’t solve—That requires a whole ‘nother post (or series) to discuss. I’m keeping this simple and focusing on how a consumer can be a better consumer, not how to tear down and rebuild an inherently unequal system.

So, check out my first Ethical Goods post on tea!