How to know if you are ethically sourcing

By: Emily Charles

In the western world, there seems to be an endless amount of material goods pouring into stores at a constant rate. But while shoppers view clothing and household appliances from the shelves of department stores, a staggering amount of those same products came from factories with questionable working standards. From poor communications to the lack of law enforcement, workplace exploitation is a worldwide issue that must be addressed. Before the question of why workplace exploitation is prevalent, the question of who is producing goods made immorally should be asked.

Workplace exploitation is a worldwide issue that must be addressed

A consumable item is constructed with materials and tools, so it is difficult to determine the origin of every component of an item. Often, communication between franchise and manufacturer is lost due to companies partnering with suppliers but not factories. While the supplier may follow labor laws within their processes, the factories that provide for the supplier may be of poor condition. Exploitation could also occur when companies partner with factories but do not monitor the location of manufacturing.

The term sweatshop is defined by the United States Department of Labor as a factory that violates two or more labor laws. With this, sweatshop is more of a category than a specific building. In developing countries, it is not uncommon for many labor laws to be violated. By corporations, the establishment of sweatshops are a common way for factories to produce a large amount of goods for little cost. In developing countries lacking law enforcement, sweatshops are prevalent due to the desperation of workers. With no other opportunities available, the measly pay of abusive employers is a better option than no money at all. The lack of transparency within the relations of developed countries’ vendors and developing countries’ producers opens the door for exploitation.

The miscommunication between the world’s vendors and producers has pushed and pulled statistics to the point that a product’s origin is often unclear. It is difficult to determine which products have been made by people subjected to unfair treatment due to their predisposition of inopportunity. But in recent years, many laws and organizations have been developed to combat exploitative behavior and inform consumers of their products’ manufacturing process. In the USA, the world’s largest seller of imported goods, Section 304 of the Tariff Act of 1930 mandated that every article of foreign origin must state the country from which it originated. Many goods are stamped with labels such as “Fair Trade”, “Ethically sourced”, or “Free Trade” – all titles relating to the sustainability of manufacturing.

The “fair trade” label refers to the fact that the product has been manufactured while still providing fair payment to the producers of the product that was exchanged between companies in developed countries and the producers in developing countries. There is a difference between “Fair Trade” and “Fairtrade” labels; “Fair trade” is the term to describe trade that follows a set of principles, while “Fairtrade” is the name of the corporation Fairtrade International. Both labels work to advocate for the protection of human rights, but the Fairtrade International organization is a distinct group with associations to researchers. Another organization advocating for fair trade policies worldwide is Fair Trade USA, an organization ensuring products of brand name retailers are made in a sustainable manner.

Free Trade is given to products of international origins that are not subject to tariffs, quotas, or other restrictions. Free trade increases the transparency between parties, thus benefiting those involved by promoting economic development, efficiency, and innovation without the exploitation of workers.

Whether fair trade or free trade, these categories fall under the umbrella term of ethically sourced products. Ethical sourcing is the tracing of the distribution and manufacturing processes from which products originate. Its purpose is to ensure the human rights of workers are considered during the production of goods, as well as the respectful treatment of the environment from which work is produced. It is important for consumers to know the manufacturing process of their purchases. Even if poverty is a widespread issue composed of many factors, improvements in working conditions are one step closer to the protection of human life at a global scale.


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