Christmas 2015, the year of Conscious Consumerism?
I have been finding myself increasingly disturbed by the thought of the impact of my consumerism. I’m not what I would consider a hugely social conscious person, not environemtal, not vegetarian, nor vegan, nor any other things I personally would generally stereotype or pigeon hole as being typical conscious consumers.
I buy high-end goods occasionally, but also buy far more high street based merchandise. In latter years, with factory disasters in India and expose’s on the standards across Asia in many of the factories that supply our electrical goods, clothes, furniture, everything to feed our consumer insatiability I increasingly find myself beginning to wonder about these things from time to time. I can’t lie, it’s not a constant problem, I often dive right back into my shopping habit, but from time to time I ponder these things.
With a more than passing interest in the travel writer and television presenter Simon Reeves (looks good, speaks well, intelligent chap, exotic places), his programs have helped me to look at some parts of the world formerly part of my romantic fantasies and notions to appreciate, there’s always a darker side, and generally, it always seems to link back to us in so called civilised society, be it the companies from whom our supermarkets choose to do business to buy a simple products like bananas in a third world country which is riddled with corruptions, violence, cartels and whatever else facilitates some welcome low prices on the shelf for us, fast, cheap, good, or in other parts of the world where western companies indulge in bribes, back handers, manipulate overseas politics behind the scenes usually to the detriment of the locals, in order to secure the goods, minerals, and essentially, prices they desire, in order to maximise profits from the things we buy.
In recent years I began to see the link in some, I stress not all, cheaply produced fast fashion, ignorance is bliss, if we don’t know about the dire squalid conditions the workers live and work in to enable retailers to meet their profit levels whilst still delivering us absolute bargains, despite having to ship them half way across the world to us, then it’s ok? Thinking about or having increasing awareness of the hardship involved in workers lives to enable our food chain to continue to deliver us our buy one get one free deals etc, does make me maybe think a little more fair trade, ethically produced in my life would be a good thing.
All these things, by now, most of us are aware of, but still we continue and hope the retailers in the interest of good PR and in the age of social responsibility will get their acts together and police their supply chains more strictly, which in itself can’t be easy from their point of view and will have cost ramification to the end consumer. Then we don’t really have to think about it ourselves do we?
Having worked in a former life running a business that a major supermarket chain severely damaged by getting me to work on a large national project whilst part of a merger, then just decided that no one in the company was allowed to answer my calls once day, merger complete, using their own preferred supplier, no notice, no compensation for the huge advertising campaign, no thank you, no explanation, just radio silence and one embarrassed operations manager telling me they had all been forbid to have any contact. If they could treat a UK supplier like this, heaven help those overseas, more desperate than myself.
But more worrying than this, some of the things that have disturbed me most of late are the subjects of slavery, and fake fur…which is what we believe we’re buying but actually more of us than we know are actually buying real fur sold to us as fake fur.
Slavery itself is a disturbing issue for me, it’s part of my heritage and the history of my ancestors. Something terrible and harsh and not the type of thing you think is happening all around us today. But what is worse is to think or question how many of us actually facilitate, benefit form or are direct consumers of the slave trade in some way shape or form. Slavery, guilt by association or rather purchase.
With increasing awareness, I’d have to say, probably most if not all of us, and that is a very sobering and sad thought indeed, especially to someone who enjoys shopping as much as I do. There have been many articles and a few documentaries on the subject of late, but they just seem to be played down, and life goes on. Slavery continues and seems to be extending across the globe across market sectors. There is reputed slavery in everything from prawn farms, salt farms, cotton farms and it just goes on and on.
As for the faux fur aka real fur issue, the very recent television Fake Britain expose by the BBC highlighted just how easy it is to make the mistake and buy real fur, thinking it would be a luxury or expensive item, but in actual fact it it being mixed into products sold on the general high street or well know department stores. Now there is no suggestion these UK stores had any culpability in this scam, having agreed to purchase coats or goods made it faux fur from factories / warehouses in Asia they were not aware they were being given real fur too. I don’t know how far can we expect retailers to have to police and check every product they get, and at what cost, to them, and eventually to us?
But I can’t deny, every time I see a fur hood on a teenager on the street now, I can’t help but wonder..if only they knew, at that age of being passionate about rights and injustice, how many are walking around wearing real fur, as are the rest of us, or in our cushions, homewares, clothes, it’s just such a horrid thought. My son picked up a sushi having heard me discuss the issue at dinner whilst stroking it asking…”but is this a real on or one of those part real part fake ones mummy?”
If you as a consumer choose to wear or buy something…well, that’s your choice, but to be led to believe you’re doing one thing, and your buying potentially the very thing you’re against or would never choose to wear, is just wrong.
It is with these scatty wondering, unconstructed or well though out random thoughts, that I then look at companies I see promoting ethical fashion with renewed respect. Companies such as Nomads, with a great story and ethos regarding ethical trade. The world of online retail makes the whole ethical fashion sourcing perhaps so much easier than the high street though many traders do have high street outlets also.
One of the companies I follow on Twitter has been promoting an admirable campaign of late.
The beanie campaign currently being promoted by Masato London aims to provide hats to homeless people. As I understand it, for each beanie you purchase from the range, one will be donated to a homeless person ( for full details please see their website). How admirable and how clever. We all want to do something good deep down, we enjoy shopping, we enjoy being consumers, but it feels good to be a consumer with a conscious, an added feel good factor that our purchases are not totally trivial and someone besides ourselves is benefitting.
Another retailer I have admired for some time in this regard is the purveyor of casual footwear. Tom’s. Their Buy one help one campaign, where they help someone impoverished for each purchase you make, is surely a feel good factor for consumers. Maybe, more retailers need to follow this.
Do I go out of my way to buy Hotel Chocolat goodies when in need over all others having seen first hand the good they are doing in St Lucia and toured the Rabot Estate, talked to the management, grafted trees and understood their passion for the people, the island and the end product, hell yeah!
Am I more reluctant to purchase bananas in a certain big chain supermarket having seen how they used to be big supporters in the Caribbean, Windward islands with fair trade logo’s everywhere as your drive through then contacting them after a hurricane for assistance on the ground for their supplier regions and getting a rather uninterested response? Yes, since seeing the influx of rather bland, mass produced bananas from other regions they stock, I have kind of lost a taste for them. Tasteless, fast, cheap, no thank you.
When I buy food I generally consider to be overcharged in an overpriced supermarket, that gives me an overpriced bag as they’ve now made them smaller and thinner and generally unable to hold my shopping even when it’s a bag for life, when they then at the end of my shop place a basket for me to donate some of their over priced food to a food bank….its really not the time, the feel good factor is not the one in that moment. However, a retailer donating something to someone, because I have bought one for myself..that works for me. We’re all different, granted, for me, I’d rather donate food to a food bank of my own accord, but it’s just in that resentful moment at the point of sale, there is no fee good factor for me. But knowing that my purchase is being matched and genuinely given to someone…is healthier than buy one get one free, ethical, and has real customer satisfaction potential.
Just a thought as we engage in the final throng of the Christmas shop. Maybe when it’s all over, we might consider the food banks with all the things we bought “just n case” that we never needed, or the homeless shelter, or anything that give’s something to someone who really needs it…the spirit of Christmas. Be part of someone else’s Christmas Story, one good deed, one happy moment, it’s all good. Maybe Karma.
Links of interest: