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Can we really trust clothes shops?

Juha Ketola | 07.04.2010
A pleasant shopping trip may prompt some detective work if you start asking the shop assistant too many questions.


I found myself at a sale in a shoe shop the other day. Before long I come across a pair of shoes which were reasonably priced and stylish. The professional shop assistant was happy to help me with my choice.
Things soon changed when I asked her how I could be sure that no child labour had been used to make my new shoes. The shop assistant had no idea what to say to that. Her colleague couldn’t help me either. In the end I was given the email address of the manager abroad who was responsible for these things.
Once I got home I sent an email to the address I had been given and explained my concerns. I soon received a reply. It said that the company sourced its products responsibly and that no child labour was used. Full stop. Not a word about any standards, reports or evidence. Luckily I am a very trusting person.
When it comes to clothes, as with many other products, customers are placed in a tricky situation; the products are all very nice but you don’t know a thing about them. There is no mention of the conditions under which the product has been manufactured. No wonder this opportunity is exploited.

FinnWatch just published a report explaining that a Finnish company was purchasing clothes from Burma. The whole world has been boycotting Burma due to its military dictatorship, which dates back to 1962, and the company in the report then also rushed to join the effort: this year Burma is no longer on the list of countries from which the company purchases its clothes.
It is, of course, nice that companies finally decide to accept their corporate responsibility after their actions have come under investigation by an organisation. In spite of my trusting nature, I can’t believe that after 48 years Burma’s military dictatorship came as any surprise to the company.
Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, had a down-to-earth way of describing a consumer’s ability to make an impact: “There is only one boss: the customer. And he has the power to fire everyone in the company, starting with the managing director, just by spending his money elsewhere.”

Walton made Wal-Mart into the largest company in the world by giving his boss what he wanted: low prices. If the boss decides to start demanding responsibly sourced products at every turn, he is guaranteed to get them.


Juha Ketola is the retailer at K-supermarket in Vääksy. FairTrade, organic products and local food are all close to his heart. He has been involved in the Pro Fair Trade Finland organisation since 2000 and became its Chairman at the beginning of 2010.

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