When my partner and I first started business planning for Every Little Bit, we debated the idea of avoiding products made in China. It was around the time of the whole lead paint, toxic toys, child-labour stories being covered by major media outlets everywhere. Were we part of the anti-China frenzy, or were we justified in our potential boycott? We knew we wanted environmentally-friendly product offerings for our customers and we wanted them to meet a potential number of criteria:
- – Sustainability of the ingredients or components
- – Manufacturing location
- – Potential life span of the product
- – Disposal method of the products
- – Sustainability of manufacturing practices
- – Labour practices
Obviously, China as a country doesn’t have a clean record with respect to human rights practices. Yet, do we ignore the “responsibly made” products by well run companies with fair management practices and avoid China in its entirety? Or do we hope that by doing business with the reputable companies that manufacture products in China that eventual business practices will change?
Pragmatically, its virtually impossible to source certain products that aren’t made in China, but pragmatism must also be balanced by ethics. Increasingly (and pleasantly), we’ve found a number of suppliers with some of the best environmentally-friendly products for our customers that were responsibly made in China. For example, one of our suppliers – Klean Kanteen manufactures their bottles in China:
From the get go, we shared some of the concerns our customers have expressed about manufacturing in China. However, after much time and research into manufacturing options, we found that by making Klean Kanteens in China we could provide a handcrafted product of exceptional quality at a reasonable price. So, before a single Kanteen was ever crafted, we set about placing prudent checks and balances in place to ensure that our products are produced safely and sustainably, and that the people making Klean Kanteens are treated well and paid fairly.
Representatives of Klean Kanteen visit China several times a year to meet with management and many of the workers at production sites. Upon request, we have allowed major retailers to inspect our factories themselves. In addition, Klean Kanteens are laboratory tested on a regular basis to monitor product content and quality.
Ultimately, we’ve decided that by supporting companies that manufacture responsibly in China, we are not only helping the environment by encouraging the use of the sustainable products being made, but we are also telling the manufacturers of China that we only support those companies that take human rights and safety issues seriously. We do as much research as possible and take great care to only select companies with products “responsibly made in China” and who adhere to ethical manufacturing and labour practices.
If we want practices to change in China, then as consumers it will take more than just boycotting products made in China; we need to prove that we support good manufacturing and labour practices wherever they take place.