Have you ever considered that your spending power is actually a superpower? That your everyday purchases can change the world? Or that you’re voting with your dollars?
Jane Mosbacher Morris, entrepreneur and author of Buy The Change: Use Your Purchasing Power To Make The World A Better Place, has dedicated her career to the mission. Now she’s making it simple for us, as consumers, to make more informed decisions about where we spend.
Want to know how small shifts in your spending habits can change the world? Read on to learn from our conversation!
Darrah Brustein: As consumers, why should we care about what we buy and from where it comes?
Jane Mosbacher Morris: We are increasingly talking about political activism and civic duty, particularly reminding people to vote, but we also get to vote every day with our wallets! We help support the type of world we want when we spend money on groceries, our car, and our clothes. If we believe we need more American manufacturing jobs, then let’s look to buy more American-made products. If we want to support women’s empowerment, then let’s seek out women-owned businesses to support. These small actions have big results. Our purchasing potential is like an untapped superpower!
Brustein: What is ethical employment, and how do we know if we’re supporting companies who do it?
Morris: Ethical employment means that the people who made the products were paid decently and worked in safe conditions. It means they chose to work there, and are not victims of human trafficking. There are plenty of safe factories around the world where workers have good, stable jobs, but there are also a surprising number of products on the shelves here in the U.S., even today, were made by forced labor— in this situation people who were lured by promises of a good job, perhaps even in another country where they don’t speak the language. Then they were forced to work incredibly long hours in dangerous conditions in a factory, say, or a field. They were barely compensated, unable to leave, and even threatened if they try to quit. Some products are still made by child labor.
Today’s growing supply chain transparency really empowers us to find out if the human beings who sewed those jeans or picked those tomatoes were employed ethically, or not. I’m really excited about a new online tool called Sourcemap that lets you trace the origin and trade route of many of the products and brands we all use. Labels like “Union Made” or “Fair Trade” are also strong indicators that workers are being compensated fairly and working in a safe environment.
Brustein: What are potential downsides to our shifting our buying behaviors in search of doing good with our dollars?
Morris: Just like eating healthier, like consuming fewer calories or less sugar, it can take more time to read what has gone into the creation of a product. It might also mean uncovering something only one we might have supported previously. Then it takes conviction to say, ‘I love this shirt, but I don’t feel comfortable with how it’s made, so I won’t buy it!’ I’ve had to do that more and more as I’ve grown aware of brands and their supply chain practices. Well, it can be time-consuming to figure out who made what! It’s worth it, but it’s a habit shift. I think of it like eating healthier. We all feel better if we consume fewer calories or less sugar, but it takes a little effort to make that switch. With ethical purchasing, it can take time to look at labels, to put down something with an unclear origin and keep looking for a better choice. I think it’s some upfront investment of time, but once you’ve altered your buying habits, and perhaps created for yourself a list of your own personal “preferred suppliers,” it won’t take more time and you can feel good about what you buy.
Brustein: One has a lot of choices to make in her day. How do you suggest making more intentional buying choices without getting decision fatigue?
Morris: Great question! Okay, there are a few ways you can vote with your dollar without feeling totally overwhelmed and just deciding never to shop again. It’s important to think in terms of manageable micro-changes. You can’t investigate every single thing you buy. It’s too much. So, you might pick one product that you will commit to buying ethically. Coffee is a really easy place to start, since coffee has far more robust supply chain transparency than fashion (though companies like mine and some really big fashion brands like Eileen Fisher and the VF Corporation, for which I consult, are working to change this). You can buy coffee from Starbucks, which is a leader in supply-chain transparency. You can order coffee from Equal Exchange, one of the oldest Fair Trade roasters in the country. You can look for Fair Trade or UTZ certification labels on the bags or cans at the grocery store. I list a bunch of great coffee options in my book.
Brustein: What does it mean to you to ‘wear your values’?
Morris: What we wear can say a lot about us (even insisting that you don’t ‘care about clothes at all; says something about you!) Because we have more choice than ever about where we buy our clothes, shoes, and accessories, we have the opportunity to ‘wear our values’ through our purchasing choice. We can affirm our values through how something is made (handmade/by survivors of human trafficking/in a zero-waste factory.) We can wear our values by what it’s made of (vegan leather like Pinatex, a great new pineapple-based alternative leather/certified organic cotton), who made it (again, human trafficking survivors/gang members turning their lives around like at Homeboy Industries in LA/women), and who’s selling it (your neighbor/a local store/a brand committed to supply-chain transparency).
Brustein: What are some of your favorite gifts that give back?
Morris: For baby gifts, I love baby blankets from Sari Bari in India. For housewarming gifts, I love candles made by single moms at Bright Endeavors in Chicago. For client gifts, I like having my business TO THE MARKET make products that reflect the company’s social mission. For example, Mastercard really cares about economic empowerment, so we make branded products for them that economically empower vulnerable communities by providing jobs to the creators of these items.
Brustein: How can your daily coffee change lives?
Morris: I love coffee so much and drink a huge amount of it, so I was thrilled to learn that coffee is working to become the first sustainable commodity. From big companies like Starbucks and McDonald’s to smaller brands like Kishe Coffee and Camano Island, there is unprecedented energy around making coffee’s supply chain as transparent as possible. It is now easy to find a cup of brew that fairly supports the coffee farmer, like Fair Trade-certified or UTZ-certified, or environmentally-friendly, like USDA Organic or Bird Friendly. Did I mention coffee may help fight depression? I am pretty sure it’s magical!
Brustein: You write that not all factories are equal, nor evil. How do we know the difference?
Morris: One of my favorite resources is KnowTheChain.org. This site provides information about apparel and footwear brands and retailers to learn about everything from the extent to which workers can express themselves to how closely a business is monitoring its supply chain. SourceMap also lets you follow the journey of products from some of the biggest brands in the world, like Vans and Jansport. The point about not all factories being equal or evil, though, is that not all big brands are bad and not all small brands are good — we have to do a little sleuthing to find out the real story!
Brustein: I love the concept of chocolate for good- tell me more!
Morris: This was such an exciting discovery we made while working on the book. During the past five or ten years, about 100 bean-to-bar chocolate companies have sprung up in the United States, and they are nearly all founded by choco-preneurs who are dedicated to social change. These are small-batch, gourmet chocolate makers who are committed to ethical sourcing. They go down to Central and South America or the Caribbean to meet the cacao farmers. They help them improve their technique and yield, assist them on making changes necessary to get certifications like Fair Trade and Organic, and often support social programs even beyond those required by these certifications, such as financial literacy, nutrition, and education. I love chocolate, and could talk about it, and eat it, all day! But the history of mass-market cacao farming is pretty unsavory, rife with child labor, environmental destruction, and even cacao farming in supposed national forests in Africa, as the nonprofit Mighty Earth exposed recently. But this huge growth in the craft chocolate sector is truly delicious.
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This article was originally published on Forbes.