Call for Consumer Reponsibility from The Times

May 27, 2009

Under the title of ‘We should boycott the callous Sri Lanka regime’, Jeremy Page writes an opinion piece in The Times, available here.

His introduction highlights the link between consumer and supplier, calling for conscience-led shopping, rejecting the myth that what we buy has no ripple effect whatsoever

The next time you buy some lingerie, a T-shirt or a pair of rubber gloves, you may want to reflect on this: they were probably made in Sri Lanka. And, like it or not, your purchase plays a role in the debate over how to respond to the Sri Lankan Government’s successful but brutal military campaign against the Tamil Tiger rebels, which reached its bloody climax this week

It’s good to see the influential sphere of journalism raising awareness of ethical shopping


Fairtrade fortnight

March 4, 2009

It’s been a manic week and a half of late, but now that the fuss is over, I can get back to my little retreat of blogging

We’re in the middle of Fairtrade fortnight now, and today has seen the positive announcement that Cadbury’s Dairy Milk has committed to going Fairtrade. The fact that this is such a prominent chocolate bar, shows their intentions and should do much to promote Fairtrade.

Around this time last year Tate & Lyle announced that they would become the biggest UK company to carry the Fairtrade certificate when it brought all its sugar into line with Fairtrade ideals.

It’s great to see these companies use their large volume of change to make a genuine difference in people’s lives, although it would be great if they didn’t have to wait until Fairtrade fortnight to launch their proposals.


Ethical Shopping

January 2, 2009

Something I feel very strongly about is the issue of Ethical Shopping. Simply, I divide it up into two areas – Fairtrade and Local

Fairtrade
Fairtrade is the only logo on a product that guarantees a fair price for the worker in the developing country. This means that not only by buying Fairtrade products are you guaranteeing a fair price for the worker but it also means that when you buy a product that isn’t Fairtrade, you may be giving money to a company who pay poor wages to workers who do long hours in poor conditions.

Fairtrade gives the coffee bean harvester maybe 4 times the wage of a non-fairtrade worker doing the exact same job. This extra money is then circulated in the local community. So the farmer is able to spend his money supporting his local butcher or crafts person. Fairtrade also take money and set it aside for community funds which are ploughed into schools, training, industrial technologies, sanitation.

How we can help
Buy Fairtrade goods (common ones are coffee, bananas, tea, rice, clothing)
Encourage others to do the same
Ask at the places you shop in if they have a Fairtrade alternative 
– Does your church, university, workplace use fairtrade products? Lobby them

Local
Never underestimate the power of those in education. Around a year ago we were studying the reunification of Germany. We were told that when East and West became one again, those in the East started to buy Western basics, such as Bread, Milk, Eggs. It wasn’t that they were cheaper, or even better, there was just this notion that it would be a luxury good coming from the land of capitalism. This had a huge knock on effect to the East German farmers and producers. Productivity in the region went down, unemployment went up, which was a disaster for an area struggling to cope with the introduction of a free market. So pretty soon the East Germans twigged on. Their buying products from the West was having a negative impact on the East’s economy.
And so I wondered about my own consumer habits. What good am I doing to the Northern Irish economy (let alone the environment) by buying a Broccoli from Spain, when there are plenty of local ones in season? Who exactly benefits when I buy bread from Ayrshire and not from Armagh? An increase in local produce being bought, means more jobs in agriculture, production, retail. It also means more graduate jobs – A successful local business needs people with degrees in marketing, advertising, web design, business. We don’t need to lose all our best graduates to England, if only we would contribute more to our local economy.

Buying local goods, inevitably means buying in local shops. In the past 15 months, I have shopped in Tescos once. I prefer instead to go to local shops, individual traders if possible, though often circumstances mean I end up in smaller supermarkets. Stillsupermarkets perhaps, but with a greater range of local options (e.g. Linwoods, who don’t supply to the mega chains, and Ballyrashane creamery). I like to shop at Glass’s – A stunning fruit and vegetable shop in Bushmills, with a real mouth watering selection. And is it more expensive? Sometimes yes. Sometimes no. Why would a sack of spuds from McCurdy’s at Portbradden cost more to bring down the road than potatoes from the south of England which have had to be transported on a truck and a ferry to get here (losing days of quality on the way)? With local food, you pay for quality, not for distribution costs.

That’s not even going into the sub-ethical business model that the big supermarkets are often accused of (demanding exclusivity, ordering more stock than they need but only paying for what they take, demanding double the order at the same price to allow for a 2 for 1 offer and many many others)
I worry. I worry that if I’m allowed to get old and if I’m still in this country, I won’t have any good local butchers or greengrocers to shop in where I can contribute to my local economy, where I can get personal friendly service, where I can get food that tastes better, where I can buy as much as I need (you try buying for one!).

I feel the Supermarket is stealing our community, and I want it back.

How we can help
– Read the label, find out where it is from and buy local goods and produce where possible
– Try the difference between the ‘freshness‘ on offer at your supermarket than that at a greengrocers
– Try the difference between the ‘taste‘ on offer at your supermarket than that at a butcher’s

 

Further Reading
http://www.100milediet.org/
Blytham, Joanna; Shopped – The shocking truth about British Supermarkets (2004 ed available on Amazon for a penny!)