Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Apologies

I am sorry to those of you who have followed this blog this year and have been disappointed by six months of silence.  In what has been one of my busiest years yet, I found myself with insufficient time to pull together my thoughts in a way that was both palatable and challenging so I didn't post.  My problem with perfectionism always defaults to posting nothing at all over something I am not at least 90% satisfied with.

It is my intention that this blog be an encouraging and practical reference for those of us who concern ourselves with our personal consumer impact, rather than just a place I vent my frustrations.  After surveying some of you wonderful readers on what you would find most useful from this forum, I will henceforth be promoting specific companies alongside my personal ramblings relating to ethical consumption.

Thanks for your support!


Thursday, 24 April 2014

Lest We Forget

Today marks a year since the eight-storey Rana Plaza factory building collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh.  365 short days ago, thousands of us around the world paused for a moment and assessed our own contribution to this tragedy.  1,133 mothers, fathers, sons and daughters were killed, and another 2,500 injured in the worst industrial disaster in the history of the garment industry.  It was a day that opened countless eyes to the injustices of fast and disturbingly cheap fashion.  Many vowed to change their ways, promising to purchase more sustainably and support companies who produce more ethically. The photographs stuck in our minds and the stories filled our headlines…for 3 days…and then we moved on.

When something of this magnitude occurs and gets some media attention, fingers begin pointing wildly in all sorts of directions.  The blame game was in full swing post-Rana Plaza, which is understandable.  If we can make someone accountable, there can be some form of compensation.  The flaw in this attitude is that it absolves us of any responsibility for either the hurt, or the healing.  

I agree wholeheartedly that it is easier if the situation and solution are someone else’s problem.  The issue is that they are not.  
o   The factory owners were blamed for forcing workers back into Rana Plaza following a report that the building was unsafe the day prior.  
o   The builders were blamed for producing a substandard structure, taking shortcuts in order to gain maximum profit for minimum investment.  
o   The government was blamed for failing to enforce tighter laws and regulations around garment factory production practices.  

This wind vane of accusation swung wildly under the changing pressure of increasing evidence.  Meanwhile we, with equal culpability, returned to our addiction to cheap fashion, forgetting our vows to these families.

I've heard and read many excuses by way of explanation.  However, I am yet to hear a decent rebuttal to the sad reality that our demand for cheaper, faster fashion forced those people back into that building on April 24, 2013.  Our willingness to indulge in ignorant and selfish consumption cost thousands of families suffering and grief and continues to do so.

So shall we now wallow in self-condemnation?  I don’t believe so.  
Feel angry.  Feel convicted.  Feel challenged. 
Learn from these mistakes and become part of the solution.

Solution starters:
o   Do some research. Stop before you shop and do a quick google search into which companies are more ethical in their production practices. (It’s important to support the good guys. Do not just boycott all Bangladeshi garment producers. Knee jerk reactions won’t help those families).
o   If information on a company’s production practices is difficult to find, email them asking them to provide details.
o   Sign up to a website such as http://www.avaaz.org/ or http://www.change.org/ and sign some petitions around worker rights.
o   Tell companies why you don’t shop with them. If we simply remove our support, they will up their marketing and lower their prices to suck us back in. They need communication via email or even instore about why they have lost our custom.

Ultimately we must remember the true costs of the garments we consider purchasing, 
because a year ago the connection between this cost…




...and this cost…




...became undeniable.



Saturday, 22 February 2014

Red or Blue?

A documentary I recently watched encouraged me that although I can’t do anything about the environment I have come into, I can help the shift to change the future of it.  Good intentions and positive thoughts will not help this shift.  What is needed at this point is people who action their concern for others.  

A red pill-blue pill situation lies before us.  I can wax lyrical for decades about why we should all take up the challenge of ethical and responsible consumption, but if I don’t make positive consumer choices I am merely a fountain of admirable but empty ideals.  We all begin in the same mess, challenged by the recognition of our consumer selfishness, unsure how to escape it.  It is our response that is the challenge.  The blue pill: Keep calm and carry on.  The red pill: Face reality and choose change.  Begin to move, lean into the challenge, leave slactivism and ignorance behind, embracing social consciousness.  Pair the red pill with action and you will begin to find an ease in momentum.  One decision follows another with increasing velocity, and yesterday’s challenge becomes today’s strength.  This decision to carry the responsibility that awaits us is the catalyst to a greatly rewarding journey.  A journey filled with discovery, in which both beauty and corruption are overturned in equal measures. 

Since accepting the red pill I have discovered the truth about consumer satisfaction.  Consuming products that have cut a swathe of social and environmental destruction on their way to my ownership, results in satisfaction for a moment.  Choosing to purchase sustainable and ethically produced goods, results in the deep and prolonged satisfaction of knowing that my lifestyle enhances someone else’s.  This satisfaction of knowing that I am becoming less of the problem and more of the solution outweighs any extra effort I have invested in finding the right product every time.  Alongside my enjoyment of feeling like I am making an ever clich├ęd ‘difference in this world’, I find myself with less useless crap and more money. Win-win!  I chose and continue to choose the red pill because I see through blue’s shallow deception. 


Many of you have asked for a genesis point, so at the risk of over simplifying the global issue of compulsive consumption, I hand you these ideas as encouragement that guilt free consumption is immediately practicable:


  • Buy second hand!  Surely it can’t be that easy?  In buying products second hand you refuse to support the companies who use exploitation to make a profit, instead supporting local businesses or charities.  You also reduce, reuse and recycle items that would otherwise go into the landfill and you get a bargain to boot.  It’s cheaper, it’s great for the planet, and it’s guilt free.
  • Buy local or grow your own food.  Buy things when they are in season and preserve them for later, or just go without when they are out of season.  This supports your nation’s economy, and (depending on where you live) can almost ensure that the workers who were involved in the production process were not exploited.  Many imported foods have a brutal backstory when you look into the production practices associated with them, so by choosing to search out local producers and do some brand research, you can often find products that are more ethically produced and prepared.
  • Buy from producers who have received an independent certification such as the Fairtrade International certification (FLO CERT) to give your money the best chance possible of getting right back down the production line.  Please don’t just accept a company’s claim that their products are ethically produced without asking some further questions.  This is where google comes in handy. 
  • Talk to local companies that you are considering buying from about the steps they have taken to ensure that their product is made in a way that reduces impact on both the environment and vulnerable people groups in their supply chain.  Beware of companies who strongly promote their reduced negative environmental impact but neglect to mention anything about their humanitarian responsibilities.
  • Buy less!  Take control of your spending and learn how much you can live without.
  
So which will it be?  Remain in a reality fabricated by companies who aspire to manipulate you into relationship with them, or unplug from the illusion and carry your responsibility?  



Thursday, 16 January 2014

Influence & Responsibility

I read this quote recently and was reminded, and inspired again, in my influence as a consumer.  I hope you are too:


‘If you have a sense that your money is somehow, even indirectly, contributing to a cause that you find morally problematic, then it seems somewhere between reasonable and obligatory for you to vote with your dollars.’  B.Mycoskie.

Money is a powerful thing.  It’s not everything, but let’s never pretend that it’s not extremely important.  Money is close to our hearts, we spend a large proportion of our time earning, spending and fretting over its amplitude in our lives.  

Our expenditure betrays our values.  We spend money in ways that assure maximum personal fulfilment for minimum financial investment.  TV ads and colourful flyers overflowing local letter boxes enforce the message that comfort, happiness and status are for sale, and for an increasingly low price you can have them.  Ingenious marketing convinces us that these companies are doing us a favour, earning our gratitude and loyalty.  This calculated manipulation includes concealing any issues that we, the consumers, may find morally problematic, which if we are really honest suits us quite nicely.  Ignorance can be bliss, and we too often choose it, sacrificing justice in order to maintain comfort and distance.  

I am in the process of exiting this system of manipulation.  I am searching out the narrow path, locating more ethical production practices amidst a societal storm of compulsive consumption.  For several years I was an ethical production slactivist.  Gathering information, with little resultant action, I cruised along making very few definitive changes toward consuming responsibly.  This changed approximately three years ago when I began buying only ethically produced clothing and footwear to see how possible this was in New Zealand.  That first resolution instigated a healthy pattern of questioning and researching production practices in other industries.  This process resulted in my separation from retailers with whom I had enjoyed mutually gratuitous relationships in the past.  In the growth of my understanding, passion found a fuel source and conscience began to drive my consumption.  I started putting wheels on my words.  

I encourage everyone to venture down the path of researching our responsibility as consumers.  Even a shallow foray into understanding production practices highlights morally problematic issues at every turn.  Fortunately there are resources available to guide us out of egocentric expenditure and toward a more just solution (See the resource section for some starting points).  


We need a mindset alteration in order to redeem our power and influence as consumers.  As money holders we are part of a democracy that votes for a future world.  
We are the demand driving the supply chain.  Our consumer choices contribute to the rise and fall of companies locally, nationally and internationally.  These companies are at the mercy of our spending, vulnerable to our decisions, and keenly interested in keeping us onside.  When enough people say 'no', they quite literally cannot afford not to listen.  The frequent misunderstanding of our role in this democracy does not change the reality of our influence.  In putting our vote forward to join the others, we support, or dissociate from, companies and their production practices.  It won't necessarily be easy, there will be demoralising moments in which it feels as though our votes for change are insignificant, swallowed in the surging tides of supply and demand.  In these moments, remember that a flood starts with a drop of rain.