Kiwi buyer’s guide to ethical shopping | The Salvation Army

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Kiwi buyer’s guide to ethical shopping

Two boys (aged 10 and 13 ) sew clothing at the Sajaad Tailor shop in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Posted August 3, 2015

Where do we start when we don’t want our shopping to fund injustice, abuse or environmental damage?

Up to 1.5 million children work on cocoa farms in Ghana and Ivory Coast, according to an International Labour Rights Forum 2014 report. Many are slaves—trafficked and horribly abused. Less than one per cent of the world’s clothes can be certified as ethically produced, and until 2013 armed groups in the Democtratic Republic of Congo were making about $USD185 million a year from us buying electronic goods, funding the killing, rape and displacement of more than seven million people.

Ethical shopping is something I know I should do, but I make excuses like, ‘It’s too expensive’ or ‘the problem’s too big’. Or I try to salve my conscience with, ‘At least I buy Fair Trade chocolate!’

Kiwis care about this issue. According to FairTrade Australia New Zealand, last year we spent $85 million on FairTrade products, up 28 per cent on 2013. That’s mostly individual cups of coffee and tea, chocolate and bananas. But with a bit of digging I found lots more options to do the right thing with my money.

The Salvation Army was founded as a church ready to work in the worst situations, combatting suffering and injustice and bringing God’s love. Getting clothed and fed by slaves, using technology that funds suffering, and paying companies damaging God’s creation is a poor representation of that. So, here are some tips to help us make a difference in our everyday shopping.

But first, two important things to remember: Firstly, you can’t do everything. You may be unable to afford some things or not always able to find more ethical alternatives—but every little helps.

Secondly, the often-quoted phrase ‘every dollar you spend is a vote for what you believe in’ is true, but so is every dollar you don’t spend! Always think about if something is a need or a want, and what your want might cost someone.

The weekly grocery shop

1. Look for products with the FairTrade symbol

Plusses: FairTrade is the world’s most recognised and trusted ethical mark, focusing on fair pay and conditions for workers, and considering environmental issues. Rainforest Alliance also does good stuff, with a heavy focus on environmental issues.
Minuses: There’s still a fairly small range of FairTrade and Rainforest Alliance-certified food products in New Zealand: chocolate, tea, coffee, bananas, vanilla and ice blocks.

2. Look for Trade Aid products

Plusses: A great Kiwi ethical brand, with 29 NZ stores, lots of food products and a good online store. Minuses: Not widespread in supermarkets (but getting into more, so keep looking) and more expensive than less ethical brands. If your budget is tight, try substituting one or two items for Trade Aid ones.

3. Look local

Plusses: Buying NZ-made and going to markets, etc. is better for the environment, and workers are more likely to have been treated well. Markets can be cheaper too and products usually use less packaging, sprays and harmful chemicals. Minuses: Sometimes harder to find or more expensive. With bigger companies, some ingredients are sourced internationally—check labels if this is important to you.

4. Go to an organic store

Plusses: Everything’s ethical and/or environmentally friendly. Minuses: They’re (mostly) more expensive, have a smaller range and are harder to find.

5. Get the Shop Ethical app on your smartphone

Perhaps the best advice we can give. It costs $4.99 and is available on iPhone and Android phones. Plusses: This app lets you look up information on the makers of everything from toys to food, electronics and pet stuff. Gives a grade from A-F on ethical and environmental issues, with links to an incredible level of detail on why. Minuses: An Australian app, so misses some Kiwi brands. Confusingly, it has info about the UK company behind Tip Top bread (another F), but not the NZ ice-cream company. Still, lots of things on your shopping list are there. After a few weeks of road testing my shopping list has changed, but the cost is pretty much the same.

6. Get the Conscious Consumer app

If you’re looking for a cafe or restaurant, this is a great Kiwi app. Plusses: Free! Handy map tool. Offers specials at some places. Minuses: Can be glitchy. Doesn’t show anything for some small towns.

Needing clothes

Obviously, we recommend Salvation Army Family Stores—buying second hand is more environmentally friendly and you’re supporting the Army, but if you want to buy new and also support ethical producers, there are some great ethical Kiwi companies. And also check out Baptist World Aid’s 2015 fashion report on the big companies.

1. Liminal Apparel

Plusses: Similar price to unethical brands ($25 a t-shirt) and sells Freeset products. Freeset rescue women sex trafficked in India and teaches them a fairly paid trade, making ethical clothes and accessories, using organic cotton. Sold in Auckland, Napier, Wellington, Christchurch, Oxford (Melbourne) and online. Check out their website, for an excellent example of how ethical shopping changes lives. Minuses: Only t-shirts, hoodies, scarves and bags.

2. AS Colour

Plusses: WRAP certified (US NGO assessing worker’s rights and environmental issues), good adult range, plus bags, hats and kids’ t-shirts. Prices are good ($22 t-shirt) and their sale items even better ($6 t-shirts or dresses anyone?). Stores in Auckland, Wellington, Dunedin and online. Minuses: Only in Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin. Shipping quotes from their online store are more expensive than other companies on this list.

3. Kowtow

Plusses: Kiwi fashion label selling Fair Trade, organic clothes in 18 countries. Big range, good online store and sold in 40 NZ stores. Minuses: High fashion adults clothing, generally expensive and not for everyone. ($75 for a plain men’s t-shirt, $65+ for women’s.)

4. FeralNZ

Plusses: Boutique Kiwi-made women’s fashion, WRAP certified, cool one-off designs, and they do custom orders. Minuses: Only online, only one men’s product, prices from $30 (t-shirt) to $300 (merino jacket).

5. Metal Baby

Plusses: Ethical Kiwi-made baby clothes. Cool designs for a small range of onesies, t-shirts and hoodies at good prices ($25 for a t-shirt, $28 for a onesie). Minuses: Online only, but shipping’s pretty cheap. Don’t confuse them with the people selling heavy metal-themed kids clothes!

6. Kathmandu

Plusses: Men’s and women’s FairTrade tees for $30. Working to 100 per cent sustainable cotton and 59 per cent of current cotton is FairTrade. Minuses: Despite the rhetoric, the t-shirts are their only fully FairTrade items. Great start, but may need encouragement to do more.

Buying electronics

You can’t buy ethical, because almost nothing is and there’s no way of knowing. We know terrible stuff happens in all electronics companies’ supply chains, but not which products are tainted.

The problem: Conflict minerals (illegally mined in conflict zones—mainly tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold) are the high profile issue, fuelling violence. But there’s also child labour, sweatshops, debt bondage, toxic waste dumping and more.

The solution: The industry is, very slowly, changing through public pressure. For example, since 2014 Intel says all its microprocessors are conflict mineral free. But there’s a long way to go. The fantastic Dutch company FairPhone, set up to try and build a fully ethical smartphone, have only managed to source two conflict-free minerals so far.

Bottom line: Buy less, tell companies what you think of them and buy from companies making an effort. There’s loads of info online to help. See or

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by Robin Raymond (c) 'War Cry' magazine, 25 July 2015, pp10-11.
You can read 'War Cry' at your nearest Salvation Army church or centre, or subscribe through Salvationist Resources.