How to be a Socially Responsible Shopper

The International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) works to protect the rights of workers throughout the world and you can help us in our cause by supporting companies that treat workers fairly. Below are some suggestions to help you find out what companies produce goods in accordance with international fair labor standards. These standards include things such as ensuring workers are treated with respect and dignity, work under healthy and safe conditions, and earn wages and benefits sufficient to support the basic needs of their families.

The apparel industry encompasses everything from garments (shirts, pants, etc) to shoes, belts, hats and other accessories. Before you jet off to the closest mall or department store for that must-have graphic tee or perfect fit jeans there are a few things you should know.

Cotton is the most popular fabric in the world, according to the Sewing and Craft Alliance. Many companies purchase cotton from countries that enlist forced or child labor. A prime example is cotton sourced from Uzbekistan, the world’s second largest exporter of the popular commodity. There, a government mandated production quota has obligated children to leave school and spend long days picking cotton during harvest season.

A recent report linked H&M and Marimekko to a textile factory which processes Uzbekistan cotton. Uzbek’s forced labor practices make it a standout violator but several other countries including India and Pakistan are known for employing child labor in the cottonseed industry. Check out more information on our campaigns against child and forced labor in the cotton industry.

You can help stop these injustices by supporting companies that implement fair labor practices. The “Shop with a Conscience Consumer Guide” is a key resource to help you become a socially conscious shopper. The guide was created by ILRF and SweatFree Communities. It profiles clothing companies whose products are created in a “sweatfree” environment, one in which adheres to international fair labor standards. It also promotes clothing produced in shops where workers are organized into democratic unions or worker-owned cooperatives and have an effective, collective voice in determining their wages and working conditions.  The list includes names such as Justice Clothing, and No Sweat Apparel.

Conversely, there’s also a list of companies notorious for unfair labor practices. Past inductees to  the Sweatshop Hall of Shame are American Eagle, Carrefour, Cintas, Dickies, Disney, Guess, Hanes, New Era, Speedo, Tommy Hilfiger, Toys “R” Us, and Wal-Mart.


When someone mentions being socially responsible when purchasing jewelry, many consumers immediately think “Blood Diamond”, the name of the 2006 movie which helped mainstream the horrific reality of the diamond trade in West Africa.

If shopping for a stylish gift for that special someone, you should be aware of the intensive child and forced labor practices often used in the mining of gold, diamonds and other precious jewels.
To make sure your next prized purchase was manufactured with adherence to international labor standards, check its certification. Certification identifies the country and mine of origin so you as the consumer can easily track the production process. A certification standard should use all of the following components: the item originates from a region free from violence, human rights abuses, child labor, or environmental destruction.

When purchasing conflict-free certified jewels review the requirements for the certification and if they address all of the aforementioned components, then it’s a good buy.

Agriculture is one of the top three most dangerous work sectors in the world, according to the International Labor Organization. Coffee, rubber, cocoa, and tobacco are some of the most common goods in which many companies flout international labor rights standards. On Sept. 10 the U.S. Department of Labor released a list of 122 goods from 58 countries which involve forced labor, child labor or both, in violation of international standards in the production of goods.

Make shopping a noble cause by supporting fair trade and fair labor companies. You’re more likely to receive higher quality products—as many of these products are fresher and handmade—while also being a socially conscious shopper.