Dropping bad shopping

Consumers must put thought into the ethics of their purchases.

Libby Hu

Consumers must put thought into the ethics of their purchases.

Children lose their limbs or are buried alive while they dig tunnels in artisanal mining pits in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The purpose? Dirty cobalt that we use daily.

Cobalt miners in the Congo work in “slave-like” conditions to produce rechargeable batteries. According to NPR, no cobalt from the Congo is “clean” or ethically mined, so we use these dirty batteries every day via our smartphones, computers and environment friendly vehicles.

Many of these miners are freelance workers who put themselves in great danger for extremely low wages. Many parents are forced to bring their children to mine to earn an extra dollar that day to feed them. Human rights experts describe this cobalt mining as degradation, exploitation and modern-day slavery.

The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has only fueled international child labor as many children feel they have to work to help their families survive. As this issue continues to worsen, it is important that we remain informed consumers.

Within the consumerist structure of the United States, it is nearly impossible to avoid unethical shopping. Most supply chains are tainted with inhumane labor practices, such as cotton produced by Uyghurs in China.

According to the Guardian, “Fast fashion has engendered a race to the bottom, pushing companies to find ever-cheaper sources of labour.”

Though it may seem convenient that your H&M t-shirt costs $6, that shirt needed to come from somewhere. We must remember the many contributors to each individual product.

Let’s say the shirt is made from knit cotton. Somebody needed to harvest the cotton for that shirt. Someone else then needed to spin the cotton into yarn, where someone else then needed to operate a knitting machine to create the shirt’s fabric. Another person needed to sew the shirt together, not to mention the shipping costs in between each stage.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the labor that goes into our clothing. If such a complex and involved process result in a $6 product, we can’t imagine the inhumane conditions those workers must endure.

Syracuse University’s MBA program online provides many ethical shopping guides and recommends consulting a company’s policies for a code of ethics, information on their supply chains and guidelines they may follow. Also, a company’s website may have certification badges from third-party organizations such as the World Fair Trade Organization.

The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre provides a list of 83 major brands associated with the forced labor of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, China. The Good Shopping Guide, another website, also has a list of ethically accredited brands.

As such, we urge you to research the processes that go into the products you consume. We recognize that it is hard to avoid companies that use unethical practices; we are complicit in this too, and we also strive to do better. We recommend that you research proactive methods of shopping sustainably like thrifting and shopping from companies that use clean labor practices.