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Socially responsible?

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We're getting closer to open date for our new store! For anyone who didn't see our announcement (in "locations"), our family is finally fulfilling my 15 year dream of opening our own store - I'm so excited I could pee! The kids are completely involved in developing the business plan, selecting the products, decorating the store. Great life experience for a 5 and 9 year old.

It's been absolutely great to get so much positive feedback from my community about the adventure we're about to embark on. (Okay, granted, perhaps we've embarked already....I would still say we're not quite out of the harbour yet!) But, my experience sure goes to show you can never judge what others think until you ask them.

At first, trying to explain we're a toy store that isn't a toy store has been a bit tough. Eventually, I've learned how to explain the concept pretty quickly - now it takes me about 3 sentences instead of 10 minutes! (Mr. deMille, I'm ready for my close-up now!)

It's a pleasure to see and hear people's reactions to "environmentally friendly" or "eco-tastic" (I think I made that up, but if I didn't...I'm sure someone will tell me). Eco-friendly and/or environmentally responsible are concepts that have caught like wildfire. Whether you've jumped on the bandwagon or have been a lifelong tree-hugger like me - I'm so happy to have you are on board, I don't care when you got on, just keep up the good works!

But, what's not so well understood is "Socially Responsible".

I remember the first time I read about "socially responsible". I was about 20 and standing in a loooooong line at a Second Cup. As I stood waiting for the barista to finish her chit chat and continue serving guests, I found an easel-backed card at eye level about Organic/Fair-Trade Coffee and read it.

I was shocked, dismayed and disgusted to learn how poorly workers in coffee producing countries are/were treated and paid. At the time, a majority of worker's in coffee-producing countries were not being paid enough to survive themselves, let alone support a family. Many were living in conditions unfit for an animal, let alone humans. So, every time I got my coffee from a local shop or the grocery store and it didn't say "Fair Trade" - well, crap! I was personally contributing to the system that was victimizing so many people around the world.

I grew up in the 70's, okay, surrounded by tree-huggers and granola eaters (only the occasional right winger in the mix!): human rights atrocities were, unfortunately, no new news to me. (I bawled as the Berlin Wall came down and remember EXACTLY where I was!) But the more I read about what "Fair Trade" meant in the coffee industry to the HUMANS working the fields, the more committed I became to making sure that everything I bought was as fairly traded as I could find.

So, here's the deal: there are many countries in our global community who still do not have the systems, regulations or laws in place to ensure their workforce are of an appropriate age, are paid fairly and/or are provided with appropriate work conditions (like a toilet and a break to actually use it!). We all know stories about child labour violations (Kathy-Lee Gifford, anyone?).

Okay.

So that means we have a common place to base our new understanding: Social Responsibility is about being responsible to our fellow humans. Making sure the products and/or services we consume (particularly in affluent countries, like Canada and the US) have been produced and provided without causing undue harm to another HUMAN. It's about being responsible for the choices we make - whether we will or will not financially support tyranny by only purchasing products that have been produced by companies who have transparency about their manufacturing and human relations practices, particularly in third-world countries.

I support the women of Nepal and Uganda (despite how far away they are) who are turning discarded and recycled magazines into some of the most beautiful beads I've ever seen - and making a fair wage to do so. In fact, I encourage it! By thinking globally and acting in a socially responsible way, I'm choosing not to turn a blind eye to citizens of third world countries and am helping them empower themselves by funding humane initiatives. It's a small and simple pebble to lay on the path to a better world.

So for anyone who's asked me: "what do you mean by environmentally and socially responsible products and companies" - that's my best answer. We choose to support companies who have this vision of a better future for ALL HUMANS, not just North Americans. Companies like eco-kids, Turtle Monkey Bugs and Green Toys.

Until next time: Inspire...imagine...invent!

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