Behind every product is a story. And even though I'm a storyteller, this isn't something I ever gave much thought to. At least not until I heard the story of Vivienne Harr, a nine-year old girl who sought to abolish child slavery by deciding to sell lemonade curbside. Moved by a Lisa Kristine photo of two brothers enslaved in Nepal, hauling stone slabs heavier than themselves, nine-year old Vivienne set a goal to raise $150,000 and free 500 children from slavery.
Initially, I thought I would help tell Vivienne's story in a four to five minute video. But when the Stillmotion crew arrived after jumping in a minivan and driving eight hours south, a much bigger story waited for us.
Our film #standwithme seeks to channel the voice of who we can't hear, who we can't see, of who we don't even realize we are in a very important relationship with everyday. We wanted to find a way to shed light on the stories of those who were never going to have the power to tell their story.
When we buy something, it's so easy to forget about all of the hands that are involved in the process of making it. It's common to dissociate your power as a consumer and your potential power as an agent of real, tangible change.
Through our purchases, we are creating a relationship with who we do business with. We have a choice of who we want to support and a say in what kind of world we want to live in.
By putting products on the shelves that do not rely on slavery, people like Vivienne make it easy for us to make a difference. I want to share five things I learned in the making of #standwithme that I wish I knew a long time ago.
1. Know the story behind your products.
Often times we're so busy looking at the price, health content, or even just the packaging that we miss labels, certifications, or the lack thereof that tell the story of what the product or brand stands for. Since it's often impractical to look at the labels on everything we buy, try starting with some of those products you buy often.
2. Get to know the labels.
What's even easier, and more straightforward, than trying to locate and makes sense of the overarching story and values of the brands you buy, is to look for certifications.
When we started making #standwithme I had no idea that buying a rug offered me a reasonable chance to be supporting the enslavement of a child in a village in India or Nepal where they could be locked in a brick room around the clock. On certain rugs, you can find labels like GoodWeave, which certify that no children were involved in manufacturing.
It can be very empowering when we step back and learn about certifications in different industries. Here are just a few awesome certifications you can look for while you're out shopping that guarantee no slavery was used in the making of the product: Fair-trade International, Fair for Life, Small Producers.
3. Realize that you can "do good" with just one purchase.
It's important to realize that you can do more than just not support child slavery; in fact, your purchases can also actively "do good." Many products give a portion of their sales to support enterprises like building schools, providing bicycles, and many other unique causes. Fair Trade USA has a comprehensive list or producers and products. Trade As One allows you to browse products, read stories and understand how your purchase makes a difference. You can also shop online.
4. Find sources you can trust.
If you find that label hunting is too much, find stores and brands you can support. Places like Whole Foods or local co-ops will generally carry a large number if not entirely all products that are well-sourced. Try to go to places that you believe in as a whole so that you don't have to be as worried that our purchases are going to be connected to something that you don't agree with.
5. Know that your voice alone can make an impact.
In making #standwithme, we met a local rug-dealer in Portland who was completely unaware of the fact that child slavery existed in the textile industry. Then a few people came in and asked about the sourcing of her rugs — and specifically whether children or slavery might be involved.
She didn't know. But their questions stuck with her, so she had to find out. The rug-dealer went from not knowing much about the involvement of slavery in the production of rugs to becoming notably educated on the topic, and now travels to India and Pakistan to visit the villages and get to know the rug-makers personally. If you want to be more vocal, ask the store manager or owner about the sourcing.
A real challenge for many people is the issue of price: as we become aware of the sourcing and look closely at labels, Fair Trade products tend to cost more.
So reframe the decision. It's about being OK with less and making thoughtful decisions about what you do purchase, about knowing the story behind it.