Shop Around the Web

sweatshop free, sweat shop free, no sweat shop items
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Shop Around the Web: Sweatshop-Free Shopping

August 08, 2008
by Sarah Amandolare
It’s always fun to shop for those little extras in life—the stuff you may not need but definitely want. In “Shop Around the Web,” we show you sites that will help you perk up your purchases. This week, be trendy and socially conscious, with assistance from hardworking organizations and publications that won’t give up until the world is fair trade, open source and sweatshop-free.

An Example to Follow

Leading the drive for socially conscious living is Vancouver-based non-profit magazine Adbusters, which promotes events like Buy Nothing Day, and publishes articles that dissect commercial culture.
Aiming for “a world in which the economy and ecology resonate in balance,” Adbusters is affiliated with a shoe company called Blackspot. Made from hemp, decorated with hand-drawn logos and constructed in a union shop, Blackspot sneakers are only sold online and by independent retailers able to bypass big corporations.
According to Adbusters, the footwear is an experiment in capitalism, an effort to work from the ground up and support stand-alone businesses. Essentially, the project is a “chance to unswoosh Nike’s tired old swoosh and give birth to a new kind of cool in the sneaker industry.”
Nike was targeted in the late 1990s for its sweatshop labor force, but now it seems as if the sporting giant could be changing its tune and standing up for the little guy. This month, Nike accused Malaysia of mistreating foreign workers at a garment factory cranking out Nike goods. The workers have put up with horrendous housing conditions, and have had their passports taken, among other injustices, according to Nike. Malaysia has denied all charges, but Nike is now reviewing all of its factory contracts in the southeast Asian country, and stepping in to improve conditions.

Shopping for Various Items

No Sweat is a fair trade, open-source brand name, which means the company freely reveals where its items (footwear and casual clothing) are made and who is making them. “The apparel industry has traditionally operated on a closed source model,” in which production sites are kept secret, and are often inhuman sweatshops.
No Sweat vows that “the workers who make our clothes will have living wages and decent working conditions: they will have unions.”
Like Blackspot, the No Sweat brand wants to see a global labor movement with knowledge and promotion spread by word of mouth, not advertising. No Sweat wants its labor sources to thrive, even if it means the sources are working with No Sweat’s competitors. The concept is cooperation, rather than ruthless competition. Of course, to fully succeed, brands like No Sweat will have to change the way the retail industry functions, and that’s no small feat.
Sweatshopwatch brings together organizations committed to stopping illegal sweatshop practices. The coalition has a shopping guide with links to sweatshop-free clothing and products. A kit with educational material about sweatshops is available for $5, and includes fact sheets and details of the Sweatshopwatch coalition’s campaign. A sweatshop glossary of terms is included on the site’s Resource page.

News and Reviews is savvy and informed about its subject matter, but not self-righteous. On the site, blog-like sections divulge ethical triumphs and failures among various retailers of clothing and accessories, electronics, health and beauty products, and more. Despite being passionate about ethical shopping, the site is not preachy or judgmental, but works hard to inform readers about “the consequences of purchase decisions related to the environment, economic justice, and quality of life.”

The Grand Scale

The National Labor Committee works to unearth human rights abuses and labor inequalities “committed by U.S. companies producing goods in the developing world.” The Committee keeps tabs on congressional happenings regarding anti-sweatshop legislation, such as the “Decent Working Conditions and Fair Competition Act,” which was reintroduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in April 2007.
On the Committee’s Web site, it provides in-depth reports analyzing the labor practices of big-name corporations like Toyota, particularly regarding production of the Prius, a hybrid car that is popular among “green” celebrities. However, despite being eco-friendly, the cars are largely produced in Japanese sweatshops, presenting a dilemma that the Committee has spotlighted:

“Why is a commitment and passion to protect our environment so often divorced from a similar concern to protect fundamental human and worker rights?” Good question.

Starting Small

Traditions is an online marketplace for international, multicultural folk art products “made available through fair and equitable trade relationships with low-income artisans and farmers from more than fifty countries,” including Nicaragua. Sneakers and shoes, as well as clothing are also available on the site. The company is now a member of the Fair Trade Federation, but started out as a simple, organic café in Tacoma, Washington, where it still hosts musical performances and workshops today.

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