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Shoppers looking past the price tag

Michael Reid won’t buy just anything.

He’s not picky or cheap. He doesn’t hate to shop. But the Spokane resident thinks twice about every purchase – from big-ticket items to everyday necessities such as food or a cup of coffee.

No matter how deep the discount, his conscience won’t allow him to buy anything at stores with poor labor practices and goods manufactured in overseas sweatshops. He’d rather support farmers markets, fair-trade organizations and local businesses such as Auntie’s Bookstore.

“I don’t think one person is any more important than all the others, so how can I make a consumption decision that’s going to be to the detriment of another person?” asked Reid, who teaches French and Japanese at a private language school in Spokane. “I have no greater right to life and comfort and privilege than any other person. I have a responsibility to act in a way that doesn’t harm anybody else.”

Motivated by faith, spirituality or the desire to “do the right thing,” people like Reid have chosen to practice their values at the checkout line. Before he buys anything, the 30-year-old not only looks at an item’s price and special features; he also reads the label to see where it was made. He researches the company that produced the goods and studies its policies. He considers the people who made the item, the hours they spent and how much money they got in return.

Sometimes dubbed “conscientious consumers,” shoppers who keep ethics in mind each time they open their pocketbooks are the ones who have supported the growth of fair trade. Reanette Boese, chairwoman of Global Folk Art’s board of directors, doesn’t always use the term “fair trade” to tell people about the benefits of supporting artisans both overseas and here in the United States. Instead, when people ask about some of the colorful clothes she wears, the unique gifts she gives and the handcrafted textiles that decorate her Spokane home, Boese tells them about the people who made these items.

It’s hard to be “100 percent ethical” in your shopping, said Margaret Mount, an educator and social worker in Spokane, but every little bit helps.

Five years ago, Mount spent a year living among northern Guatemala’s indigenous communities and was both saddened and shocked to see how little families received after toiling all day picking coffee beans in the fields. Now, she drinks only fair-trade coffee and makes an effort to support organizations and companies that adhere to fair-trade practices including environmental sustainability and respect for culture.

As a kid growing up in San Francisco, Reid and his family always shopped at organic health food stores instead of grocery chains. As an adult, he continues his family’s tradition not only for ethical reasons, but also for pragmatic ones, he said. “As a species, we are dependent upon each other,” he said. “Our survival is dependent on our ability to form communities. It’s shortsighted to perceive our ‘community’ as the people in our immediate circle. We have a larger community, and that’s everyone on the planet.”