How to find ethically sourced products you can afford

Buying ethically-sourced products can feel like a daunting task, especially when many seem so expensive. Fortunately, there are workable solutions.

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I think that most of us are appalled every time the issues of slavery and trafficking come up in the news. We know that people around the world are working under terrible conditions, often to produce goods that we buy cheaply and use or wear regularly.

We know this is a problem, but we feel helpless to solve it.

Sure, we know we can buy ethically sourced items, but that's a daunting task, especially when we see and hear how much extra it can cost us to purchase these items. And then we have to find them... it's enough to make most people give up.

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It's unfortunate that most people don't know just how easy it is to stop supporting slavery and trafficking, and that it doesn't have to cost any more than you would usually spend.

1. Visit a Thrift Store

Most people don't realize that the easiest (and often cheapest) way to stop supporting slavery with our purchases is to buy used goods. Now, before you say it, I know that all of the items at a thrift store are not, in themselves, ethically sourced items. But (and that's a big but), when you buy used, you are stopping the cycle of buying inexpensive goods, not using them up, and instead discarding and buying more. In fact, you are making it so that fewer inexpensive items need to be made which, over time, could lead to fewer of those awful factory situations.

Thrift stores can be sources for more than just clothing. I know people who have gotten fabric, dinnerware, appliances, and even furniture via thrifting.

2. Utilize Flash Sale Sites

You know those websites that offer clothing deals until an item is gone? Those can be great resources for buying ethically sourced items. You will need to do some research before you hop on some of these sites and buy something, but a little poking around should help you know which brands are safe when it comes to working conditions. Some sites will actually label clothing from certain manufacturers as ethically sourced or made in America.

Not sure where to start? Try Zulily, PureCitizen, and Fab.

3. Buy American

One great way to make sure you are buying items where workers were paid an ethical wage and had decent working conditions is to buy goods made in America or Canada. Because of the labor laws in those countries, it's almost guaranteed that workers are not slaves and, in fact, are compensated fairly for their time.

Not all American goods are cheaper than the unethical imports, but, because you reduce the shipping and transportation costs, these items can sometimes be priced competitively with the cheap, unethically sourced items we are used to.

4. Participate in Swaps

There are all sorts of ways to get involved in clothing swaps. You can usually find a Facebook swap group in your area through a simple search, or you can set one up with some friends. The idea, again, is that wearing used items helps you step out of the vicious cycles that encourage slavery and poor working conditions.

To set up a swap, start by finding some friends who are about your size (this is important unless the swap group is large). Set a date, and have everyone bring items that they no longer want. Then "shop" through each other's clothes. Everyone is almost sure to find at least one or two things that will work for them. If all of the clothing finds a new home, great! If it doesn't, donate it to a local thrift store.

5. Co-Purchase Some Large Items

Sometimes, there's not really a way around buying unethical goods. I'm thinking specifically about technology, appliances, and some household items. If you need to make a large purchase and you can't find a way to make it ethical, try to find someone who you could share the item with. This means that you would buy one of the item, rather than two, thus reducing the number of items that need to be made.

I have some friends who have made this work with a printer. The live on a cul-de-sac, and went in on the purchase with the neighbors on either side. The printer lives at their house, but everyone has access to the Wi-Fi network it's on. When someone needs to print, they send the document to the printer and pick it up when they can. A scheme like this could work for things like lawnmowers and other pricey, rarely used tools, and so much more!

6. Set Up a Borrowing System

I think the idea of borrowing and lending makes a lot of us nervous. I know I feel that way! If I lend something, I wonder if I'll ever give it back. And if I borrow, I worry about returning it in the same condition, etc. But, when it comes to ethics, borrowing is a great way to, once again, step out of the consumeristic cycles that support low wages and poor working conditions.

Try starting a lending group with people you trust. Talk it over, and decide how you want it to work. If you're borrowing and lending clothes, take some time to get a feel for what the other person has. If you're thinking about borrowing and lending kitchen appliances, tour each other's homes. Set up some rules so that everyone is comfortable with the situation. Then, when you want something that you know your friend has, put the system you set up into use.

Some folks I know do this with yard equipment. One family owns a lawn mower, another a snow blower, and another an edger. They rotate these items around so that everyone has a nice yard in the summer and clear pathways in the winter.

This article is from Sarah Winfrey of Wise Bread, an award-winning personal finance and credit card comparison website. This article first appeared in Wise Bread.

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