I am not a shopper and I agonize about finding gifts for other people. And for those of us following the Occupy Wall Street movement, or general discussion on the US economy, we are looking for ways to be more responsible in our purchases.
I read one post where the author said she would be using cash during this shopping season. By avoiding the use of credit cards, this will reduce the profit for the big banks instead increasing the profits of the vendors where she shops. Shopping at local vendors will support the people in your community. www.yelp.com is great for finding specialty stores and restaurants.
If you value buying hand made items from individuals check out www.Etsy.com. You will find so many quality made items and you can search based on your location to support artists in your own community.
We have a 10,000 Villages store in my neighborhood, but you can also buy Fair Trade products made world wide on their website.
Other global impact ideas are listed on this blog post 11 Holiday Gift Programs that Benefit Non-Profits
When Buying Fair Trade, check for the appropriate logo that shows the product conforms to the regulations. Not all logos and labels represent a quality control program. Terms like Natural, Environmentally Friendly, and Green are not regulated and companies use these terms to suggest responsible practices without having to verify those practices to anyone. The system for identifying and regulating socially responsible practices is not yet perfect, but by checking for legitimate logos you will help develop improved practices.