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Flowers, lingerie, chocolate and gems — the ethical way

By Trisha Elliott

Money can’t buy love — but we sure do spend it to express it. Especially when February rolls around. According to digital marketplace and research group Retail Me Not, the average Canadian spends $164 on Valentine’s Day. Predictably, the highest ticket item is jewelry. Other popular purchases include lingerie, chocolate and flowers. Here’s how to register your ethics at the checkout:

1. Gemstones

Jewelry can reflect misery more than love. Environmental devastation, child labour, safety risks, armed conflict, money laundering, smuggling — gem extraction can be ugly.

Informed choice: Shop at companies committed to upholding labour and environmental standards and that can demonstrate chain of custody. Alternatively, consider a lab-grown stone. Another idea: recycle! Buy an antique ring or rework an inherited stone into a new design. 

2. Lingerie

Ethics might not be top of mind when purchasing sexy undies, but the well-known exploitation of fertilizers, pesticides and child labour in the garment industry can kill the mood. The World Bank estimates that almost 20 percent of global industrial water pollution comes from the treatment and dyeing of textiles.

Informed choice: Avoid mass-produced and low-quality pieces. Look for undergarments made from organic cotton or alternative textiles such as bamboo or beech-tree fibres. Inquire about printing and dyeing strategies aimed to reduce water consumption. Garment workers should be treated ethically, even when there is little fabric involved. 

3. Chocolate

Sixty percent of the world’s cocoa is harvested in West Africa. World Vision Canada estimates that over two million West African children work in the cocoa industry, notorious for child labour and trafficking.

Informed choice: Look for child labour-free certification. Consult World Vision’s Good Chocolate Guide (www.nochildforsale) to help satisfy your sweet tooth and your ethics.

4. Flowers

Most flowers sold in Canada are imported from Latin America, where workers, largely women, may be exposed to harmful pesticides banned in Canada. 

Informed choice: Buy from a florist who sells fair trade blooms. Scout out flowers grown in Canadian greenhouses. Buy longer-lasting varieties like chrysanthemums, lilies and carnations. Or toss the cut flowers altogether and purchase a plant.   

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