ethical audit: a bit done, plenty more to do

October 23, 2008

Lately I’ve been wondering about conducting an ethical audit for WaterMemory, somewhat inspired by this one, to see where I could improve.

An ethical audit would look at WaterMemory on the basis of labour, materials used, implementation of the three Rs (reduction/ re-use/ recycling), environmental impact overall and social/ ethical impact. This is part of one of many, I think- I am aware there are probably a good few aspects I’m missing out on in this effort.

Labour

As I am the only person involved in the design and creation of my wares, with access to as much tea as I can drink, it’s easy for me to say that on the labour front, I do fairly well. That said, on some pieces (particularly knitted bags) I cannot charge for the time used without the price going through the roof. That’s a trade-off I’m okay with, though. Maybe it sounds trite, but I’m far happier for my bags to be loved than for them to be ‘properly’ priced.

So: a happy workforce overall. Result!

Materials

Given the sheer amount of materials I use, across a few different crafts, this will be a difficult one. There are also a few ways to assess them- in terms of labour used to create those materials, their ecological impact, the practices involved in their creation etc.

In card-making, I frequently use ‘rescued’ papers- scraps that would otherwise be stuck in the green bin. Although they’d be recycled anyway, I still reckon that re-using them is slightly better. Paper can only be recycled a finite number of times, and this varies depending on the grade of paper.

Beading, my main love.. here is where things get interesting ethically, by which I mean difficult. I use Bali silver and Hill Tribe silver for my decorative touches. Both are community traded, meaning that the craftspeople are supported in their traditional craft with proper pay, but beyond that the details are somewhat foggy.

I use semi-precious gems, which raises another area of difficulty. Gems are often mined (an issue in itself) in the most appalling conditions- health risks include silicosis, caused by inhaling silica dust (more here). I try to buy from companies with better labour rights records, but the information I have is sketchy. I do not buy on a large enough scale to be able to work directly with the producers of these materials, so I buy on trust.

Overall, my strategies are to buy from companies and countries whose labour practices I trust, but this doesn’t *really* answer the question. As well as that, it’s a negative move, when I should really be looking for alternatives. It’s all very well to not wish my materials to be the product of exploitative or unethical labour, but wouldn’t it be better to actively seek out fair trade and community trade alternatives?

Pledges

I pledge to use more materials made by small-scale crafters and companies, whose overall practices I can stand over. As much as boycotting can achieve, I would be happy to also vote with my euro to support individuals and companies who are trying to do the right thing. (Etsy and Cow’s Lane, here I come!)

I also pledge to source and introduce more community-traded and fair trade materials to my work. It can only benefit my customers to know that indigenous communities are being supported and encouraged in their craftwork by being properly paid for their work.

I pledge to continue using recycled and reclaimed materials in my work and to expand my use of them.

I pledge to expand my contribution to charities through WaterMemory and also to come up with some creative ways to fundraise, using my work.

If there is anything I’m missing out on here, please feel free to drop me a line. If you’ve found a company that is doing the right thing, or a lobbying group that works on this issue, I’d love to know about them.

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