Ethical Consumerism

I’ve recently taken to subscribing to Ethical Consumer magazine online. A colleague at work often loans me the copy from the local Quaker meeting house, however, I feel I need to know more and in my own time, so have subscribed.

I think it’s my duty both as a teacher of Ethics within my role as an RS teacher and as a privileged westerner living in a safe country, to understand what things are creating unethical issues in the world that drive people to avoid and boycott certain companies. I need to educate myself on political situations or who is sleeping with whom at the current time. I think it goes hand in hand with striving to ensure that we not only reduce our impact on the environment from a consumerist, plastic crap kind of perspective, but also that we become more tolerant as humans and reduce the negativity and toxicity that is clearly out there in the world. How do we make good choices, sort the wheat from the chaff, the fake from the genuine and just be honest, good people?

It’s easy to say Nestle is bad, but do you know why? Do you also know who Nestle is in bed with? I pick on Nestle because they are the most well known. We can’t always make a difference in the physical sense. Not everyone is able to ethically volunteer (ie actually help where help is really needed rather than taking a rich white kid gap year, or pay for clean water in a country out of their own pocket), so want to do something that helps. But, I know there will be those out there who will say that boycotting makes no difference at all.

I disagree with you. Of course, one person boycotting a company makes no difference, but that one person telling a friend, or writing a blog post that reaches 5 – 500 more, well that may start to hit a company where it hurts, even if it’s as much as a tweet that one of the HR reads many times over and it hits their conscience. Look what happened and is happening with the school striking, with Blue Planet, with Jamie Oliver’s exposure of school lunches, with the awareness that tobacco was bad for you. It always starts small, with one or two pioneers and grows.

So it’s my duty to educate myself so that I make informed choices and help others who criticise or laugh at my ‘hippy’ ideas understand the actual real-life problems behind my decisions. The problems may not belong to me, I have fresh water in my tap, I eat healthy food, I’m not an animal or a 7 year old in China, but I (along with many of you) are the underlying cause of them. Our need and desire for something cheap, something quick, something that doesn’t upset our personal equilibrium, something very privileged.

I am know that in my search to be less of a burden from a plastic and environmental perspective, I also need to be more aware of less direct connections, and this is where it can become incredibly complex and exhausting:

In the search to be more environmentally friendly, I have purchased Green brands, such as Ecover and Method before…they’re on the boycott list, did you know? Ecover, in their labs, use animals to test on, how is that actually helping the environment, you are robbing Peter to pay Paul – not ethical. Method – the same! Not to mention, neither are doing much about their plastic bottles – yes might be able to buy ‘refils’ but they’re in plastic pouches which, as far as I know, are not recyclable. My council won’t take plastic pouches.

So the conundrum is: Fairy – not organic, not eco friendly, in plastic, but works damn well! Ecover – excellent alternative, eco friendly, organic – but kills animals in the process – fuck! Alternative – change my mindset! I could make my own, I could get a refil from a company like Sesi or Faith in Nature. It’s not going to work as well as Fairy (less chemicals that make it as sudsy or soft !!) or Ecover, but it is ethical and I can get used to it.

In an attempt to not touch Nestle, I buy Cadbury’s chocolate (after all, it’s was a Quaker family enterprise), however they are on the list for avoiding tax, owned by Mondalez who use Palm Oil in their products and sadly have bought Green and Black in the past to try to stay within ‘good chocolate’ – so can’t even go there for an alternative! I also look to buy Kellog’s cereal – again, now on the list for environmental reasons (in the USA using GMO), so I need to look further into this for the UK.

It’s quite an exhausting education and I know I’ll hit lots of blocks, however, for me I am going to narrow it down to a few smaller fields:

  • Energy
  • Banking
  • Clothing
  • and then I’ll move into Food

I am trying to buy more clothing when I absolutely need new, from either ethical producers who:

  • Source their materials ethically with low impact on the environment.
  • Pay their workers a living wage
  • Provide safe and healthy working conditions for all their workers
  • Pay their taxes

However, as a first port of call, I will be looking at second hand. I was up in Manchester this week (train!) with my son on an open day. He dumped me for favouring a school pal who was also up there, so I took the time to search out some of Manchester’s finest second hand emporiums.

As with all these things though, it’s not always quite as simple as making a switch. I know that we have been with the same bank for YEARS. Our mortgage is tied in with our savings and we offset it all. If I discover in my research that they are unethical, this is far more of a ball ache to unravel ourselves from than just switching our current or saving accounts over. Sometimes switching from one supplier to another for energy could mean the tariffs increase and become unaffordable, therefore it is important to decide what works for you. Cost shouldn’t be an issue to making the right choice for the consumer, but sadly companies or wages make it that way sometimes. That’s unethical in it’s own right no?

It’s a start, a personal journey. I know I currently try my best where I currently can. I know I am lucky enough to be white, western, working and have choice. I know I can also do better. I also know that as a beekeeper, vegans will probably tell me that I am exploiting the bees’ livelihoods and you know what, that’s fine, I’m cool with that, sorry! There will be things you’re cool with that I’m not. I’ve not bought Nestle for years and the rest of my family just can’t get on board with it, but that’s okay, that’s them, this is me. I think if I make small steps to understand the why’s behind the boycotts, I can get on board with those I support and reading Ethical Consumer in my inbox each month is a great place to start.

Finally, here are a few pics of my weekend in Manchester and some gratuitous shots of lovely lights and some crafting I’ve been doing.

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