Fair Trade Baby: Becoming a Parent and Staying Ethical

BabyWhen it comes to having a baby, everyone has an opinion. This is particularly true considering the stockpile of supplies a baby needs, as well as all the stuff you, as a parent, need in order to care for your little one.

Like many of the milestones of life, becoming a parent—especially when it’s your first child—is generally accepted to be a costly endeavour. The pressure of a huge commercial industry preying on parental guilt and fear encourages us to buy everything on that Baby Essentials list foisted upon us by every shop.

Costs on Many Levels
It’s easy to see why so many parents end up with a ton of stuff they never use. There seems to be so many “must-haves” for babies (and parents!) today, that it can be hard to know what you will really need, and what you will really use. Not to mention where it came from and who made it.

MuseumIf you prioritize environmentally and socially conscious products and want to ensure that your bub is not exposed to a gamut of harmful chemicals, this journey can leave you feeling even more overwhelmed and confused. More than one mom-to-be has confessed to being reduced to tears.

It’s no longer as simple as walking into a store and clearing a shelf into your shopping cart, either. No one wants the dark shadow of worker exploitation falling across the crib.

The Problem of Misleading Labels
Products for babies and kids are often labelled as “natural,” “organic,” or “fair trade,” but what do these labels really mean? And, how do you know they’re accurate? Brands use these labels in Canada, often without recourse.

The Government of Canada has legally enshrined some labelling requirements to help give consumers clarity about what they’re buying. For example, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has specific rules about using the words “Nature,” “natural,” “Mother Nature,” “Nature’s Way,” but only in the way that these terms are applied to food or consumable items. The Textile Labelling Act demands that imported textiles be labelled with their origin, but makes no stipulation about providing information on worker conditions in the country of origin.

This leaves a parent-to-be walking into a baby store with relatively limited information. Take a box of bottles, for example. The packaging is brown cardboard. The label says “Natural Bottles.” Upon further examination, though, the packaging is merely brown, not recycled nor printed with natural dyes. The “natural” aspect the company refers to on its packaging is the design of the nipple, meant to more closely simulate breastfeeding. The bottle itself, however, is still made of plastic, which can potentially leach into the bottle’s contents. A study in Environmental Health Perspectives found that plastics, whether labelled BPA-free or not, released estrogen-mimicking chemicals.

Doi ChaangHow Fair Trade Certification Helps
When it comes to fair trade products, things can get even more confusing. Canada lacks legislation to control how the phrase “fair trade” is applied to products. Many brands will call themselves “fair trade” but use those words to describe a myriad of things. By choosing products associated with a reputable certifying program or membership organization, like Fairtrade International, Fair Trade Federation, or World Fair Trade Organization, you can have confidence that the claim of fair trade is being supported by real efforts.

Preparing for baby is a lot of work, yet making purchases that respect people and the planet is worth the extra effort. Set aside a few minutes and jot down the items you really need. Then read up on the brands to ensure their claims of environmental and social sustainability aren’t just marketing glitter. Don’t have time for research? Then check out our list. These businesses sell fair trade baby products affiliated with third-party certification.

Author: Passionate about ethical and sustainable initiatives, Jennifer A. Clark is a freelance writer, educator, and blogger, as well as communications and marketing coordinator.

Originally published in Fair Trade Magazine - Winter/Spring 2019 Edition