Buying ethically and sustainably matters. Adults are usually able to talk about the serious issues surrounding slave labor, sweatshops, and how mass consumerism is destroying the environment. However, while these are all important topics, they may be a little heavy to throw on children. 

How can we talk to young kids about making purchases that respect the people sewing, building, or manufacturing them? It’s completely possible, so let’s break it down. 

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Simplify Things

Throwing big words around will only confuse kids. Ethical consumerism is a relatively simple concept, so it can be broken down to be digestible for your children. 

Here are a few examples of what to say to children to explain why shopping for the environment and the people in it is important: 

  1. “Someone has worked hard to make everything we buy, so we should respect the things that we have.”
  2. “Some things we buy make a lot of bad pollution, especially for the people who make them, so you need to make good choices about what you buy.” 
  3. “Getting paid enough is really important. We want to make sure we’re buying things from companies that pay their workers well.” 
  4. “Buying something from a company is a way of telling them we like them. It’s not very good to buy things from companies we don’t like because then they will think that the mean things they are doing are okay.”  

Humanize Workers 

Not all children may understand how their toys and food are made. To them, everything just appears in a store or neatly packaged in an Amazon box at their doorstep, so they may not stop to think about what happened before it got there. 

Humanizing the workers is one of the first steps to breaking down why ethical consumerism is important. Explain that the workers (who are mostly women) spend many, many hours every day working hard to make what we buy. They may then begin to appreciate how precious everything they purchase is. The monetary value of something is important, but the ethical value of the product is equally relevant when deciding whether or not to buy it. 

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You could show them pictures of women in a garment factory, or talk about the country where the product was made. 

Let Them Be Part of Decision Making 

Making decisions is powerful, and children enjoy feeling like they’re a part of doing the right thing. 

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Even asking your child, “The people who make our clothes deserve respect, this company does not respect them. Should we buy from a place that does?” gives them an opportunity to say yes. 

This will also help them think before asking for something new, because they know they are just as important in contributing to ethical consumerism as adults are. 

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Give Them Options 

There are plenty of fantastic ethical options out there. Shopping from eBay, thrift shops, and ethical/sustainable brands are all great ways to consume without contributing to the harm of factory workers or the environment. 

Don’t just tell your child no to an unethical purchase without any explanation. Instead, offer a reason and an option or two in replace of what they want. 

This may be easier said than done, but the whole point is to show them that they can still enjoy the toys, clothes, and even food they want without supporting companies and industries that don’t treat their workers correctly and fairly

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