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.