Five ways to buy more justly

November 21, 2014

By Christa

Here we are, approaching the holidays again. And as much as I love the next several weeks, this is one of the times of year that I find myself needing to be more intentional about my thought processes around shopping. Because I will buy things at Thanksgiving and Christmas – food for dinners, gifts for friends and family. But I can control where and what and how much I buy (for more on this, come on out to BFJN’s Just Giving at Christmas event in December!)

Over a number of years, I’ve come to believe that my own consumption is a justice issue. What I buy, and how much, either supports or rejects global systems that oppress people. As many have said, shopping ends up being a lot like voting in that we choose where to put our money, and our money is what keeps businesses afloat. If enough people refuse to buy something on ethical grounds, firms respond to shifting demand by creating different products that peoplewillbuy. If we maintain the same buying patterns, we give businesses no reason to change their unjust practices. In fact, our demand helps perpetuate them. That said, we live in such a consumption-driven society that it can be hard to know where to start as we reconsider our purchases. So below I share five things I’m trying to do (as a point of reference) to move toward buying more justly.

1.Purge stuff. This suggestion isn’t about buying,per se, but it has ended up as my most important move in my transition to less consumption and buying more justly. The process of going through all of my things and getting rid of stuff weighing me down was pretty liberating. So liberating, in fact, that I’m hesitant to bring in a lot of new stuff to fill in the places I’ve so recently emptied. So I’m now more thoughtful about what I decide to buy, whether its new or used clothing, furniture, or housewares. Because I’m buying less and trying to be more intentional about my purchases, I can spend some time doing research into ethically-made products. There is really very little that we need to buy RIGHT NOW (apart from perhaps food, which is another issue), and once we get into the habit of considering most of our purchases, it’s easier to choose things to buy that promote just systems.

2.Avoid Target(and other similar stores). First, I’ve found that places like Target are The Land of Unintentional Purchases. I used to go in for the cheap groceries or toiletries and come out with a new dress and nail polish, precisely what I’m trying to avoid. Moreover, the items I bought there tended to be the low-quality, questionably-made products that support a system I’m moving away from. Staying away from Target (and Wal-Mart, and Meijer, etc.) hasn’t actually been that hard. Once I got out of the habit, I stopped missing the experience of shopping in those stores. And I’ve started to replace them with places that give me a stronger connection to Boston or even to my neighborhood. For example, co-ops. Retail outlets like Harvest (for groceries) or Boston Building Resources (for house needs) carry high quality products and are owned by members that live in the area (you can be a member too!). The money spent there stays pretty local.

3.Commit to buying (mainly) used or ethically-made clothes.The vast resources of the internet (namely Ebay) have helped to wean me off of big-box stores. While I love the idea of thrift store shopping and I’ve had some major scores at different shops in my area, thrifting can take a LOT of time. It can also be hard to find the exact items you’re looking for. Consignment shops are good, too, but again, its sometimes difficult to find what you need. I’ve found Ebay to be a happy medium, since there are so many sellers and so many goods (as long as you search for pre-owned products!). There are also a number of internet businesses that sell ethically-made clothes and shoes, and several have emerged since the building collapse in Bangladesh several years ago.

4.Buy Fair Trade as often as possible.The fair trade movement encourages systemic change in the production and distribution of goods, resulting in labor practices and wages that are non-exploitative and sustainable. Choosing fair trade for specific items means refusing to support unjust and brutal business practices. Apart from cocoa (which we discussed in this post), other products for which buying fair trade makes a significant difference are coffee, tea, bananas, and sugar (among many others). Its also pretty easy to buy fair trade gifts for family and friends, as well as furniture, jewelry, and housewares at stores like Ten Thousand Villages. The products might be more expensive than their non-fair-trade counterparts, but this extra money holds the potential of turning the industrial tide toward just treatment of the poorest and most vulnerable. Seems like a shift Jesus would support. In fact, check out what’s happening in Boston around Fair Trade!
5.Reduce single use products.One way I’ve been able to afford the extra cost of fair trade products or gifts is by redirecting the money I was spending on products like paper towels, paper napkins/plates, Ziplock bags, plastic wrap, and other single use items and replacing them with reusables like microfiber cloths, fabric napkins, and durable containers. I’ve been gradually transitioning away from disposable products for a while, and it hasn’t been as hard as I thought it would be. Microfiber cloths work just as well as paper towels, and I keep a lot on hand. It isn’t that much more trouble to use a Rubbermaid container than it was to use a Ziplock bag or plastic wrap. And my personal waste stream shrinks, pretty dramatically. I do believe the most marginalized people in society in the end will bear the brunt of the consequences of the wasteful habits of the Global North, and reducing my own consumption and waste is one part of my effort to move toward a just world in which others aren’t paying for my mistakes.
I know I still have a long way to go, and I’m not 100 percent consistent in these five things, probably not even 95 percent consistent. Cell phones and other electronics are tough for me, as are clothing basics and make-up products. But every step I take matters, as long as I keep moving forward. How could a critical mass of people changing their patterns of consumption affect injustice in the world?
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