Given their history, one would assume that labor unions and the sustainability movement cannot work together. For example, automobile unions long opposed improved car mileage standards, and many in the Teamsters’ Alaska chapter supported the exploration of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The tension often demonstrated the false jobs-versus-environment debate.
Times are changing, however. Labor unions and environmental groups often linked together to oppose some of Wal-Mart’s policies, and organizations like the BlueGreen Alliance are working together to build a “green” economy. Now one Massachusetts company connects labor-friendly factories in the United States with eco-friendlier products. Its origins date back to a Ben & Jerry’s sponsored non-profit that sought to eliminate sweatshop labor.
Ethix Merch, which started in 2002, matches over 100 factories with clients that seek friendlier alternatives to the laser pen or plastic keychain. Yes, they are one of many companies that supply clothing and goodies that are given out by trade shows. If you are pausing because, like me, you have winced at all the junk that is passed out like candy at trade shows, take a deep breath. Ethix Merch’s portfolio of products are made with the best alternative options including bio-plastic, organic cotton, and vegan synthetic “leathers.” Where Ethix Merch steps away from its competition is that its staff works with its clients in choosing the best possible chotchkes for that gig, taking into account budget, environmental considerations, and social consciousness.
The company’s small staff of six has almost 100 years of collective experience in supply chain management, non-profit work, activism, and operations experience. One issue their client factories face is that they lack an effective sales and marketing force that can get the messaging about their goods out to the market. To that end, Ethix Merch’s sister organization, Solidarity eXchange, recruits activists that can serve as a de facto sales force, promoting their products’ reduced impact on the environment.
The task is not easy for Ethix Merch: the company runs on slim margins so that their clients can purchase supplies close to or matching the price of competing products. The company is optimistic that by helping individual organizations select the most ethical option, they can transform industries that historically have exploited workers while leaving a large carbon—and landfill—footprint.
And as you can see, the bio-plastic frisbee from Ethix Merch has converted one important customer.