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A Guide to Ethical Shopping

*written by Julianne Ballog, Miami Intern.

How many slaves work for you? You might feel a little indignant about this question thinking that we abolished slavery way back in 1865, and no freedom-loving American would think of condoning slavery in this day and age. That’s how I felt too, but guess what? I’ve just discovered that I have no less than 46 slaves working for me

Now, you might be a little confused. You might be asking things like: How in the world can 46 slaves be working for you? And how did you not know this before?

The answers to these questions are shocking. While it’s true that the type of slavery we generally think of-African Americans engaged in forced labor on southern plantations-is a thing of the past, slavery has not been abolished at all. What has replaced the old system is a much more insidious one which operates covertly in order to avoid public scrutiny. Unfortunately, we are discovering that slavery is very much alive and well in the world, and many unsuspecting consumers support the practice with their wallets. Because slave labor is often buried deep within supply chains and outsourced production facilities, we can only estimate the actual number of victims, but by all accounts there are more slaves today than at any other point in history. That’s where my 46 slaves can be found, producing the material goods that are in my apartment or on my body, or cultivating and harvesting the food that I buy at the grocery store and restaurants. All so that I can get a good deal and manufacturers achieve the highest margins of profit. Never mind that these laborers are often women and children. Never mind that they are subjected to coercion and violence. Never mind that they never enjoy the fruit of their own labor, living in the most deplorable conditions imaginable..

But, if you are one of the growing number of people who do mind, take the survey yourself at as the first step in discovering how you might be supporting forced labor through your spending habits. The next step is to change some of those habits and become a slave-free consumer, and we can help with that.

Knowing that spring is a time filled with days to celebrate mothers, fathers, and recent graduates, we have created an ethical gift shopping guide that you can use while searching for that perfect gift. We’ve also provided many resources that can be used outside of gift giving in your general life, where most of your consumer power lies.

Companies that claim to be ethical in their production have to meet certain standards. There are 5 key issues that these companies are evaluated on: human rights, the environment, animal protection, community involvement, and social justice.

Many certifications are given to companies and are used to alert the shopper about their ethical practices. Some certifications to look for are: Fair Trade Certified USA/International, Fair Trade Federation, World Fair Trade Organization, Ethical Consumer Best Buy Label, Rainforest Alliance, Whole Trade, and Fair for Life.

Shopping local or re-purposed/used is one of the easiest ways to ethically shop. One of the local stores that carry a variety of ethical options is Park+Vine located at 1202 Main St, Cincinnati, OH 45202.

But, here are some other options that you can use in your shopping endeavors!

A Perfect Gift for Her:

  1. Breakfast in Bed:

One of the best ways to show someone that you love and care for them is by whipping them up a fresh breakfast and bringing it to them in bed. And we all know that breakfast would be nothing without COFFEE!

Coffee is one of the most important products to be aware of when it comes to ethical shopping. The main reason for this is fair trade. There are many companies that do not operate under fair trade which leaves coffee farmers in awful situations: child labor, slavery and low-wages among the largest issues. So, when you are looking for that perfect cup of coffee to serve to your mother or loved one you should look for local coffee or coffee that is stamped with the fairtrade seal of approval.

Here are some brands we suggest: Equal Exchange, Newman’s Own Organics, Any Local Coffee, Just Coffee

Now coffee is the first step in ensuring ethical standards some other brands to be aware of for the other breakfast items are: Nature’s Path, Bob’s Red Mill, Cascadian Farms, Organic Valley.


  1. Jewelry and Accessories:

As spring approaches, everyone is in need of a fun floral scarf or some new bracelets. Ethical shopping options for these types of gifts mean that local artisans are fairly compensated for their talents and work.

The first place we suggest you check out is a local shop called Ten Thousands Villages. They have two Cincinnati locations: 2011 Madison Road and 11316 Montgomery Road. They sell beautiful materials from jewelry to homegoods that are ethically produced and traded.

Check out the follow link to their gift guide for further ideas:

  1. Home products:

Did spring cleaning leave some room for new additions to the home? Well, has some ethical solutions to fill that space. From gorgeous floral oven mitts to delightfully smelling candles, they have various options for you to choose from!

Another great site to check out is:

  1. Makeup and other Skin Care Products

One of the most controversial issues surrounding skin care items is the animal testing. Therefore, it is very important to make sure you are choosing ethical options when finding that perfect peach lipgloss.

Here are the companies that we strongly suggest: Lush, Aveda, Kiss My Face, Burt’s Bees.

Another fun option would be to make your own using natural ingredients that I bet you already have lying around in your cupboard! Visit or to find recipies.

  1. Flowers

The classic gift that never goes out of style. Freshen up the day with a nice bouquet of flowers.

Of course going local for this would be our number one suggestion, but also look at the following to see cerftified fair trade:

A Perfect Gift for Him:

  1.  Outerwear:

As the weather warms up and summer approaches, what better way to enjoy the sunshine than to go for a hike or a run?

Check out these companies workout apparel that is good for you, others, and the earth: Adidas, Hanes, Patagonia, LL Bean, REI, Timberland, Reebok.

  1. Wallet and/or other accessories:

This is one of the most common gifts, but has the potential to be one of the most unethical due to the leather. Therefore, this is one item to be particularly mindful of. Luckily for you, we have found some ethical and stylish options to find that perfect match for your loved one: — They have two options, one is recycled from a tire and the other is from newspaper. They also have other accessories to choose from.

L.L Bean is one of the top rated companies and provides a variety of options from accessories to apparel.

  1. Electronics:

This is probably the most difficult category of products to purchase ethically because the minerals found in every computer, phone, tablet and gadget are mined by forced laborers in the east Congo. Many are children who forced to go down dark shafts that often collapse. One of the best steps you can take is to resist being caught up in the marketing ploy that encourages us to constantly upgrade our electronics, to get the newest and best whether we need them or not. And once you do decide it’s time for a new phone or computer, be sure to recycle your old ones. The minerals can be salvaged from them and used in ethical production, reducing the demand from slave sources. Many phones can also be refurbished and sold to people who are not so concerned with having the latest model.

Check out these recycling/refurbishing sites when you’re ready: Best Buy kiosks,, and Earth911.

And when you do plan to purchase a new item these are the best, though still not great, companies to work with according to Free2Work ( Nokia, Acer, Apple, Del,l Hewlett-Packard, Intel, LG, Electronics, Microsoft, Motorola Mobility, Motorola Solutions, Panasonic, Samsung, and Toshiba.

  1. Razor and other hygiene supplies:

Want to help them look and smell good? Well, we got just the perfect places to find ethical products to do just that!

Brands to look for: Tom’s of Maine, Speedstick, Jason.

Websites to browse:

  1. Paper Products (journals/calendars, etc).

It is never too late to start a journal or plan your day.

Check out the following: –They have a lot of fun recyclable options to choose from! –A variety of journal options! — Many different options from journals to calendars. They also have Cincinnati locations: 2011 Madison Road and 11316 Montgomery Road.

A Treat for Yourself:

We all have those moments in life when we just need a little chocolate therapy, but I bet you didn’t know how unethical traditional chocolate options are. So, check out these options that will make your tastebuds happy while making a positive difference in the world: Endangered Species, Theo, Sweet Earth, Newman’s Own.

And our final suggestion for you is to download an ethical shopping app so you can be an ethical consumer on the go. Check your app store and look for what options are available for your device.

Remember that you can make a difference by just being mindful of your consumer habits. It’s up to all of us to end slavery together!