Money talks

Fairtrade fabric

Fairtrade fabric

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!

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12 Comments

  1. I agree! For me it has become a choice to opt out of the consumer society, to try and make good choices about where and how I spend my dollars [not always successfully I admit!] I am saddened by our corporatic world – the food that is not food, the clothes that cost peoples freedom and dignity, the bigger is better and more is best syndrome that is so insidiously fed to the masses on a minute by minute basis ….. I trust, I have to trust, that there are more aware people in the world than we know. This is what drives me and in the blogging world I find them in the oddest places – this makes me very happy!

    Reply
    • It’s true… I love making connections with like-minded people. They are all over the world and if it wasn’t for this amazing technology we might all feel much more isolated.

      Reply
  2. Linda Winn

     /  January 9, 2015

    Gosh. I don’t remember writing those things at all….. Did I include my favourite quote on the subject too? ‘Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.’ Anna Lappe.

    A huge YES to finding and celebrating with like-minded folk:

    Be with those who help your being.
    Do not sit with indifferent people,
    whose breath
    comes cold out of their mouths.
    RUMI

    Reply
  3. Amen to that. And make best use of what you do buy, using it all, carefully, with thought and appreciation.

    Reply
  4. I have said to people I know for a long time, “vote with your money!” Sweatshops are a form of slavery and keeping them going benefits no-one except the greedy. It’s not always easy to find a good solution, but I’m convinced that if we each do more thinking before we buy, in the end those small steps will add up . . .

    Happy New Year, Mrs. Snail, to you and your family. ~ Linne

    Reply
  5. I’m with you 100%. I rarely buy anything. I want my things to come from artisans or those who have invested of themselves in their product. Not pay a corporation. I think books are still my one area but even there, I try to be careful. Someone, somewhere is working on the solution to this corporate slaughter of human dignity. We can help by buy carefully and consciously. Well said. I liked the Rumi quote too.

    Reply
  6. Too true on the isolation girls. I live in redneck central where people go camping and throw their rubbish all over the ground when a bin has been placed within metres of their campsite…society is being led by the nose to believe that everything is disposable and that if you want something…just buy it! (Charge it is even better). Supporting places like Oxfam is a good start, buying items direct from the craftsmen/women and being sure to support fair trade items if you can. Even just “thinking” about it is a good start. Walking into a $2/pound shop and looking at a nest of stainless steel bowls for $2 you need to ask yourself how is that even possible? You had to mine the ore, ship it over to China, manufacture the bowls (including all of those carbon miles and fuel) and ship it back to a distributor and then out to individual points of sale so how on EARTH can it be so very cheap? As you pointed out, it isn’t. It’s artificially cheap and the truth is hidden so that we first worlders can just keep on consuming in happy ignorance. Where we put our disposable income will direct the course of where the world arrives in the future.

    Reply
  7. I’m reading book about the American Civil War and the ways that anti-slavery people stopped buying cotton from slave states, as a way of living what they believed. When we shop and buy mindfully, we’re joining a long tradition!

    Reply
    • It’s good to remember historical examples, even those from within our own lifetimes. I remember when there was still apartheid in South Africa hearing the argument that if we boycotted their products, the oppressed would suffer. It wasn’t true – activists in South Africa begged us not to support the system and we didn’t. Let us not show solidarity with the exploited by lining the pockets of their exploiters.

      Reply
  8. May I add, and grow some food and create some clothes, tools, useful things. (Which you do well!)

    Reply

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