Malls are emptying of anchor stores and fast fashion meccas are feeling the pinch. More and more consumers are demanding ethically produced goods, from the clothes they wear to the foods they eat. If you want to be part of the movement supporting ethical businesses practices that are good for the environment and good for labor, here are a few hints on finding businesses you can believe in.
Customer-Centric Business Is Good Business
Begin by looking for businesses with a great customer service model. Businesses that put you first tend to also put their employees first. Companies like Nordstrom empower their employees to make decisions that benefit the customer. Their only customer service rule is for associates to use their best judgment in every situation.
Whether it's your in-person experience, or you deal with customer service automation that gets you the answers you need no matter the time of day, great customer service is the first key to finding an ethical business that values and empowers its employees. Besides, even the greenest, labor-friendly business means nothing without good customer service.
If It's Too Good To Be True, It's Too Good To Be True
Ethics are tied to more than the service you receive. It's also important to look at the products themselves. Tees for $5? Shoes for $10? If someone is offering you a deal that feels too good to be true, it likely is. Yes, automation brings prices down, but a lot of labor is still done by hand and when you're paying less than half of an hour of minimum wage for an item, yet the company is raking in billions, someone has to lose out and it's usually the laborers.
You can't trust that because something is made in a first-world country that the labor practices are fair. UK giant Boohoo, known for dirt cheap clothing that's made in Leicester and Manchester. The Guardian discovered that they were able to offer those low prices by paying illegally low wages. When looking for an ethical company, consider the real cost of manufacturing goods. When you're being offered a crazy deal, someone is still paying the price.
Overconsumption Creates Waste
Another problem with ridiculously low prices is that it encourages waste. The USDA estimates that approximately a third of food in the United States is wasted. At the same time, Americans are sending 12.8 million pounds of clothing and other fabrics to the landfill every year. When there is no perceived value in the items you buy, it is easy to simply throw them in the trash. Companies that encourage that mindset aren't behaving ethically, no matter their rhetoric.
Avoiding companies that encourage a disposable mindset is another way to hone in on more ethical options. For food, this doesn't mean you can only shop at farmers' markets. Many smaller grocery chains like Natural Grocers focus on locally made products, but all of their products are organic and humanely raised. Instead of buying meat that was processed states away with questionable labor, find your local butcher or go straight to a small rancher for your meat. You'll pay more, but that's because food actually has a cost.
As for clothing, do your homework. More expensive doesn't always mean ethically made. Companies like Zara and Topshop don't offer the bargain-basement prices of some online retailers and shops like H&M or Forever 21, but they still use a fast-fashion model which encourages consumers to buy new clothes every couple of weeks to stay up with trends. The more clothing you buy, the more likely you'll throw out the clothes you already own. Since most fast fashion is made with synthetic fabrics like polyester and rayon, made from crude oil, the products don't break down.
Ethical companies treat you right and encourage you to treat the planet and other people right. Those companies are out there. Do your online homework, think small and think local.