Monday, January 06, 2014

Shopping Ethically

Image is from here
Duncan and I watched a documentary on SBS about the clothing industry in Bangladesh last year.  Appalling working conditions resulted in buildings collapsing, killing and maiming many people.  Those who were left amputees could no longer work and had to be financially supported by their families.  Their pay rate was disgraceful.  What really hit home was that I shop at the clothing chains responsible for all of this.  Greed!  It's such a blind spot for all of us.

After that, I couldn't buy any clothes made in Bangladesh with a clear conscience.  Now some Christians would argue that boycotting is not a solution, that if we don't buy the products then the people will be out of work, resulting in them being poorer still.   I was glad to see that Oxfam has released a list of the clothing companies that have signed the Bangladesh Worker Safety Accord.  There is a petition here to sign if you're interested.

But this only addresses the building safety and does nothing for fair wages and workers' rights.  I wish I could shop at some of my favourite stores now that they're on the 'nice' list, but, the truth is, they still fail in many other areas.

Shop Ethical is an online consumer guide (they also have a booklet and a smart phone app available) which details and rates each company behind popular brands according to their environmental and social impact.  And some of them fail big time - oh my!  Definitely a big conscience prick there!  They are evaluated independently (so not by any company seeking to badmouth their rivals or blow their own trumpet) - see the FAQs for how it works.  It's NOT about persuading people to buy the more expensive brands instead of cheaper ones - some of the classier brands receive a bad rap as well.  Nor is it about product quality - the product itself could be excellent, but the company who makes it exploits their workers in developing countries, tests on animals, and uses poor environmental practices.

Now I've taken the hard step of trying to shop ethically when it comes to food and clothes.  It's not easy!  Some 'good' brands are not available in small country towns.  Some of my favourites don't get a good rap. I love a bargain as much as anyone.  It's very tempting to pretend I never saw that documentary, that I never visited the Shop Ethical website or bought the app.

But I can't.  If I claim I love Jesus, then I must love my neighbour.  Not turn a blind eye because I want to shop how I want.  Not continue on my merry way because it inconveniences me, a rich, white Westerner.  Not support companies which exploit people made in God's image for profit.

This is one of my hopes for 2014 and beyond.  We each can make a difference.

This post has been entered in the January edition of the Christian Blog Carnival.  If you're a Christian blogger and would like to enter one of your recent posts, submit it here today.

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