North Korea … We know

April 8, 2009

Further to the National Geographic piece on Refugees from North Korea which I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’d like to highlight just one practical way in which you can make your voice heard.

Open Doors are running a campaign to speak out against China’s forced repatriation of N.K. refugees. It is a great tragedy that China forcibly return refugees to a country where leaving is a capital offence. As a result, not only are many refugees returned to face potential execution, but the stance of the Chinese Government means that female refugees who aren’t caught, unable to declare their status, are often forced into the sex slave trade. Open Doors claims that 70% of N.K. women refugees are forced into brothels or sold as sex slaves or wives (source)

Just as we condemn the Allies for knowing about Auschwitz and doing nothing about it so will our children condemn us for knowing something of the terror that goes on in North Korea and refusing to engage with it, instead ignoring the information and living selfishly in denial.

When you kids ask what you did to liberate the people of North Korea, what will you say?

Start here – not to ease your conscience but rather to take action – by sending a letter to the Chinese Ambassador asking her to urge the Chinese Government to change its policy of forced repatriation.

Click for change


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!)


Protesting, Lobbying – Is it worth it?

December 3, 2008

Yesterday I wrote of the student protest that took place on our campus against higher education fees, and the buzz that that generated.

Today, I still owe this University more money than I have, to have the pleasure of studying here. I’m in the Library at the minute and I’m surrounded by stressed first years with essay deadlines, international students embracing Skype and Youtube-induced cackles of laughter.

So nothing’s changed? Right? Minimal local press coverage. No statement of defiance from the University of Authorities. No word from Reg Empey, backing down from his proposal to increase fees by £80. Hardly the follow up to the radicalisation of discontent I talked of yesterday.

So what was the point? I mean, is it worth it at all to stage a protest? To write a letter to a local authority, an MP, a newspaper? Is anyone listening?

Let me tell you about some of my stories. Hardly shake-the-earth’s-foundations successes but worth telling you about nonetheless

As talk of a new Anthem for the Northern Ireland team whipped the media and the fans into a frenzy a few months ago, I wrote to one of the officials at the Irish Football Association. I got a meeting, and a chance to air my views. I also got an email response from the Chair of the Alliance Party

An email to the same Party’s Culture spokesperson on the ongoing issue of a National Stadium received a response attempting to justify his comments

A petition we ran to make our campus ‘Fairtrade’ received over 500 signatories, led to it becoming one of the main issues for Student Elections, and the New Site VP has been following this up with meetings with the Vice Chancellor to attempt to implement this policy

And there are loads of bigger stories, where a letter writing campaign, or a take to the streets has caused those in charge to change their ways. Politicians know they get elected by the people, so it is in their best interests to pander to their fancies.

If you are passionate about change, seek it. If you can’t do it, lobby someone who can