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How to Back-to-School Shop -- Ethically

07/31/2012 07:42 EDT | Updated 09/30/2012 05:12 EDT
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Every single day, we make decisions about what we buy to feed and clothe our families -- not to mention the many products we both need and want to support our busy lives here in Canada.

As a mom starting to equip two children for back to school, the shopping process is doubly consuming. And for me, doubly challenging. That's why I'm starting so early this year. As leader of a World Vision campaign called "End Child Slavery," I can't ignore what I've learned about the role children play in producing many of the items on our store shelves.

We often see news stories about how children are trafficked for sex. But for every child forced into prostitution, nine others are enslaved in places such as factories and sweatshops. In my work at World Vision, I've come across examples of children working in situations Canadian moms would never imagine for their own kids. Children forced to work seven days a week, with only a few hours to sleep -- using machines with the power to maim for life.

I know I'm not alone in thinking twice about what I buy and why. Some of you focus on buying locally made products and produce. Others of you have taken up the challenge of buying nothing new for a day, a month, a year, or more. Some of you do all of the above, and more!

I understand that buying nothing isn't much of an option when your son's pants are three inches above his ankles. But there are steps we can all take to be responsible consumers, stopping before buying to consider what kind of impact we're having on the world and its people.

Since we're often doing back-to-school shopping with our kids, it's also a great time to get them thinking about how their decisions affect the world around them. They may be living on meagre allowances now, but as tomorrow's earners, they could be tomorrow's ethical consumers.

Here are a few tips:

1) Consider the power you have as a consumer to change children's lives. Ethical consumerism isn't a magic bullet, but it can help transform the harmful conditions in which the things we buy are produced.

2) Research the brands you typically buy before making a decision. We've discovered some websites that rate companies' social responsibility, as well as environmental performance and health risks:

• www.goodguide.com

• Rankabrand.org

• ethicalconsumer.org

3) Explore new shopping possibilities, like

• checking out your local second-hand shop

• buying certified Fairtrade products that strictly prohibit the use of child labour.

4) Use your voice to ask governments and corporations to address the exploitation of children and its root causes. Go to now to find out what you can do right now.

5) Take on our Shopping for Change Challenge with your family! It's a great way to get your children starting to think about how they spend their own money. And it's fun enough to forward to your friends.