I am thinking a lot at the moment about purchasing choices. I have heard it said that if we don’t buy goods produced by exploited people then we are causing them even more suffering – depriving them of the small income that they do have. But, to me, this feels like a bit of a cop-out. One of the most powerful things we have at our disposal in the UK is money – how we spend it has a major influence on individuals, our local area, our country and the world as a whole. You may not have the opportunity to directly influence your government’s choices, but your use of money (apart from various taxes) is up to you. I do not feel that I am helping people who work in a sweatshop by continuing to make it profitable for the owners of such enterprises to run them. My money can do good… and can support production that does not rely on exploitation of people and the planet.
I can choose to buy goods that support ethical businesses… and this choice does not necessarily mean I have to spend more. Logically, you might assume that the more you pay for an item, the more money is going to the workers, but this simply is not the case. Many ‘designer’ brands, associated with high price tags, have poor records as regards workers’ rights, not to mention sustainability and the environment. Ethical Consumer’s report Style over Substance makes rather depressing reading on this subject, but their website in general is a great resource if you want to examine your purchasing choices.
But what about the people at the beginning of the line? My friend Linda wrote the following that gives some perspective on the the workers’ side of the argument:
Satish Kumar gave a talk locally a few years ago now and explored the idea that buying things from ‘poor’ countries helped by giving people jobs. He was impassioned, to put it mildly, making it clear that ‘poor’ people did not need to be given jobs but have their dignity and self-respect returned to them. He said it was corporations creating the problems and that their jobs did nothing to increase the health, wealth or well-being of those people who had previously owned enough land (often compulsorily purchased for infrastructure/corporate building etc i.e. taken away from them), water (now polluted and/or used by industrial processing i.e. taken away from them) and their family/village seed collection (now replaced by bought seed requiring bought fertilizers and chemicals – i.e. yet another resource taken away from them). So these ‘poor’ people had gone from being largely self-sufficient for housing, food and clothing to not having enough money to buy housing, food and clothing and working ridiculously long hours in appalling conditions so the ‘rich’ people can buy cheap goods and clothes.
Linda went on to say:
The way we allow ourselves to be manipulated into buying more and more ‘cheap’ stuff is understandable, but as soon as anyone wakes up to it, the way ahead is clear! There’s not much stuff that is ACTUALLY cheaper than it used to be but nowadays its other people and the environment paying the true cost, often out of sight so that we don’t have to think about it.
So, there you have it: buy less (leaving resources to the people who need them); buy thoughtfully (support ethical businesses and buy direct where possible); avoid big corporations; and speak with your money… it really can shout loud!