Kent businesses

One possible way of reducing your ethical footprint is to shop local. Sometimes it can be difficult to decipher which of the local stores are providing the best or the most ethical products. Smaller businesses often purchase products that come from the United States, are fair trade products, or sometimes even come from your hometown. Local stores often have many products which were purchased under ethical conditions, but that does not mean they all do. One of the most important things you can do as a consumer is also very simple—ask!

We did just that; on a recent trip to the downtown Kent area a few students working on this project made that just our mission. We headed to some popular shops in the local Kent areas to ask questions about products and where they came from.

The Works

The Works is what you might describe as an eclectic shop of sorts. It is filled with everything from blankets to jewelry to bags and mugs to household decorations. With such an assortment of items the question of where things come from may seem overwhelming. When presented with such a variety of objects you can’t necessarily find out where everything comes from, but you can find out about individual items. If you have something particular in mind, a friendly sales associate can probably give you a few details on where that product came from. Off the top of her head, our sales associate was able to tell us where many of the items scattered around the front of the store came from.

  • Garden ornaments (recycled) come from Kentucky
  • Woven blankets from the East Coast
  • Hanging decorations from Chicago
  • Art from a local Akron gallery (Artist Don Drumm who graduated from Kent State)

On top of these items the sales associate informed us that many items they purchase are fair trade items, often coming from a catalog. The store also purchases items from ‘normal’ catalogs, but they aim to purchase unique pieces that are one-of-a-kind. People visit their store looking for unique, handmade items, and that’s exactly what they find. If you’re in the local Kent area, stop by and take a look, but don’t forget to ask where your purchase comes from!

Last Exit Books

Last Exit Books is a safe place to shop to begin with. Their products are books—but they aren’t new books. These books have been used and resold back to the shop. Buying reused products is one of the best things you can do. The money doesn’t go back to the big corporations which may have produced them;  reused book stores are also a part of the small shops you may find in your home town, stores you would probably want to support. On top of the good things buying used does for your ethical footprint, this shop goes beyond just this in order to be ethical.

  • Reusing plastic bags (rather than throwing them away)
  • Won’t throw away books—if a book won’t sell, he will GIVE it away before trashing it
  • Never selling books at full price

If you are looking for a place to purchase books in the downtown Kent area, this is the place for you!

Empire

You can tell that Empire is an interesting place from the moment you walk in. The walls on the left are lined with products, on the right there is a table with jewelry and a display of handmade chocolates. The middle of the room is bare of products—instead it has seating. In the back there is a screen, behind it a comfortable looking area. Empire is best known around campus for its weekly Ladies’ Night, where you can get free henna. We stopped in to see if they had anything else to offer.

  • The line called Mystique is created by a local woman, Susan Smith
  • House of Bittersweets (in Stow) creates all of the chocolates in-house; it is Empire’s store
  • Magic crystals are made from industrial waste

The crystals are one of the most interesting things we learned about. They are made from industrial waste. They smelt quartz and silica which would usually end up in a pit, buried in the earth. This helps cut out the amount of waste produced. The sales associate also told us about the jewelry that is sold at Empire, emphasizing that they are very careful about where their products come from. The water buffalo jewelry is hand carved from water buffalo in Vietnam. The buffalo die naturally, and every part of it is used in some form or another—the buffalo are the most important part of life. Although these products are not made locally, it is easy to trace where they come from and knowing their path is certainly a step in the direction of becoming a more ethical consumer.

Kent Natural Foods Co-Op

The Kent Natural Foods Co-Op is one of the places you would most expect to find ethically created and purchased products The goal of the Co-Op is to purchase as many local products as is possible. Of course, one can imagine that this tends to be seasonal.

  • Local produce in Summer from Kent or Brimfield
  • Eggs are purchased locally. The furthest the eggs come from is Clinton, OH.
  • Hummus and tahini from a local middle eastern store in Akron, and is homemade.
  • Herbs from Frontier (another co-op)
  • Local soaps and skincare from Meadowlake Farms in Hiram
  • Locally produced goat soap and goats’ milk cheese from Kent
  • Teas from Dalton, OH who grow their own mint and produce their own tea
  • People bring in items (some men had brought in mushrooms the day we were there)
  • Maple syrup, honey, bee pollen and products, all made locally
  • Cheese from Middlefield, OH, Fredricktown, OH, and from Amish country
  • Milk from Wooster

One of the interesting things about the locally purchased milk was that it came in glass bottles. Consumers then recycled the bottles, bringing them in and getting fresh milk in them.

It is easy to see that there are many options for locally created products in local areas, especially in Kent. Simply walking into a store and asking questions or looking at tags can be an answer. Many clothing articles in Fig Leaf were made in the USA, and there are also other used stores in the downtown area, one which sells records, one, Rehab, which sells used clothing. Nearby is also a Goodwill and local restaurants and coffeehouses which aren’t chains. The idea of being an ethical consumer is one that can easily be put into action: it simply requires a little forethought and maybe a couple of questions.

By: Hailee Monk, Alison Darr, Monique Brunatti, Hannah Potes

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Effects of Free Trade

NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, was ratified in 1994, and it allows tariff-free trade between the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The US joined the World Trade Organization the following year, which creates a similar pact with many other countries, most notably China, which joined the WTO in 2001. The United States’ participation in these agreements has had a negative impact not just on our country itself, but the other participants in free trade.

This act has had a particularly adverse effect on Mexico. While the country has drastically increased its exports, it’s only due to maquiladoras, those sweatshops on the US-Mexican border, which exist only to bring Americans cheap products, and exploit and dehumanize workers. Further damaging to Mexico’s economy was the America’s participation in the WTO which has caused many American factories to move from Mexico to Asian countries, such as China, which are even cheaper. According to Malkin’s New York Times article, Mexico now faces rising unemployment, lowered foreign investment, and depreciation of its currency. (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/24/business/worldbusiness/24peso.html)

While the pact has had a negative impact on Mexico, due to all the many free trade agreements the US is part of, our country has suffered as well. Even though Barack Obama promised to negotiate NAFTA during his campaign, according to his trade advisor, the agreement doesn’t need to be revised or reopened. Regardless, millions of American jobs have been lost over the last decade and a half after these free trade agreements were ratified, only to be sent to Mexico or Asia, so that American products can be manufactured in sweatshops. According to James Hoffa, the president of the Teamsters union, “These so-called trade deals are killing American jobs. The aren’t about trade, they’re about helping countries move their factories to countries with cheaper labor.”

Though there are many effects of free trade, such as environmental problems (other countries don’t have as stringent environmental policies as the US), child labor, sweatshops, the one the most people can identify with is the loss of jobs. Nearly everyone in this country has lost a job, or has a family member that has lost their job due to outsourcing, which is the practice of corporations moving their factories to foreign countries because of the much lower production costs. An estimated 2.4 million American jobs were lost to China alone, during 2001-2008. (http://www.epi.org/economic_snapshots/entry/counting_the_jobs_lost_to_china/) While throughout history trade tariffs have balanced trade and made it more expensive for companies to produce in foreign countries, thus giving them incentive to keep their factories in America, that is no longer the case. With free trade, there are no barriers to moving products from country to country, so more advanced countries with environmental restrictions and labor laws suffer, while countries like China and Mexico are exploited. Workers there, because of the lack of humanizing laws, can be forced to work for just a few cents an hour. Though most people seem to overlook free trade policies as the reason for these discrepancies, it’s a direct cause of the change in America’s economy, which most people agree has only been getting worse. (http://www.epi.org/publications/entry/bp173/)

By: Alison Darr