Fair Trade and Labeling Truth

20111004-084806.jpgFair trade, certified organic, natural, green, what does it all mean? Find out how to find the truth behind labeling and the connection between how your decisions can help stop human exploitation and trafficking.

Today’s Project Green Challenge quest is learning how to tell the difference between truth and greenwashing. According to the PHC handy glossary, greenwashing is the process by which a company publicly and misleadingly exaggerates, embellishes, or labels the environmental attributes of itself or its products, while participating in environmentally- or socially-irresponsible practices.
 So what does that mean to you? It means that you are being mislead to believe that something is good for you when it may not be.

Click to take the LABELING challenge

Whether it is beauty products, cleaning products or even clothing, TTG says that just because a product may feature “the color green, leaves, or even the words “natural” or “organic” does not guarantee any standard, certification, or validation of sustainable practices. “All-natural” is a perfect example of misleading advertising. Arsenic, uranium, mercury, and formaldehyde are all naturally occurring . . . and poisonous!” being a conscious consumer will pay off in the end. Why pay extra for a product that isn’t any better for you?

I learned this lesson the hard way after purchasing an entire line of beauty products that were not organic at all but were labeled “organics”. I felt duped. Why label this one way when it is full of paragons and other toxics. Clearly because it sells products under the pretense that they are something else when they aren’t.

Fair trade has always been a term that has been a bit confusing for me so I called in an expert who specializes in fair trade products from around the world to ask her a few questions.
I see fair trade coffee and fair trade bananas at Whole Foods but what does that mean? That you swapped your bike for some bananas and all thought that it was fair? No, not quite. Fair Trade means so much more. According to the PGC green glossary, Fair trade is an organized social movement and market-based approach that aims to help producers in developing countries create better trading and social conditions and promote sustainability. The movement advocates higher social and environmental standards. It focuses in particular on exports from developing countries to developed countries, most notably agricultural products such as coffee.

Meet Lindsay Sullivan advocate for ethical fair trade and owner of SET Boutique. I met Lindsay last year during an event in the city. Her story sent chills through my body as she explained her journey. SET, Support Ethical Trade, was established to end modern day slavery and exploitation. After reading an article in the SFGate called Diary of a Sex Slave, she realized that this issue isn’t just across the globe, it is here in our own neighborhood. The horrific truth is that young women across the world and even in our cities are tricked into leaving their families to become educated to provide a better life and then forced into becoming sex slaves. Humans are being exploited right before our eyes. With the continual pressure to lower prices and decrease costs, businesses are forcing children and workers to work extremely long hours without pay, no food or bathroom breaks and even unsanitary conditions. Some are verbally or physically abusive. That shirt you found for $3.80 hardly seems worth it now.

Read more about Lindsay hereBIO. Her story is chilling and honorable.

JS: What does green mean to you?
LS:To me, being green means incorporating the consideration for the environment in your everyday life. It doesn’t mean that you are perfect but it means that you care and you are aware that our actions impact our earth. It means that you are open to improving your habits and adapting to a more sustainable lifestyle. being green means incorporating the consideration for the environment in your everyday life. It doesn’t mean that you are perfect but it means that you care and you are aware that our actions impact our earth. It means that you are open to improving your habits and adapting to a more sustainable lifestyle.

JS: When sourcing products for the boutique, what materials do you choose and what do you avoid?

LS: When sourcing for SET Boutique I gravitate towards organic cotton most often. Consumers love cotton for so many great reasons such as its comfort, and ease of care. It is unfortunate that this natural fabric is also one of the most damaging to the environment, but organic cotton eliminates the use of pesticides that negatively affect soil, ground water, skin, and our eco-system. I like to experiment with sustainable wools, and recycled content polyester as well. I avoid man made fabrics that do not contain recycled content. There are many tempting fabrics that blend a sustainable fiber with rayon or modal- but beware that rayon and modal use nasty chemicals in processing which lead to pollution. If you want a slinky fabric blend make sure the rayon is Lyocell brand which is a trademarked version that is not harsh to the environment.

JS: What is your position on cheap clothing offered by large companies that is made and sources from overseas.
LS: I favor smaller retailers who hold ethical practices and profit at equal value. Most large corporations let profit guide their decision making which hurts everything along the supply chain, including factory workers and their environment. Focus on profit alone also discourages eco-innovation at large companies. However, on the flip side these large corporations have the influence and funding to create real change. It was Wal-Mart that asked its laundry detergent suppliers to develop concentrated formulas that required less packaging. Although I don’t always agree with Levi’s sourcing strategies they have the funds to use waterless denim processing on selected styles, and their widespread influence is teaching the consumer how our clothing affects the environment. In general, I support small local businesses but we can’t deny the influence that corporations have the opportunity to use for good.

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