In this series we’ve looked at a couple of arguments for being an ethically conscious consumer. Since this is my last day as Comms Intern and this is a subject close to my heart, I’ll return to it today, and address another common objection to consumer choice.
It’s not our problem
Where to start with this one? The reason that STOP THE TRAFFIK supports certification by organisations such as Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance and UTZ is that it provides an important first step towards guaranteed traffik-free goods. In other words, we are moving into a world where people are not forced from their families and into farms, potentially suffering all manner of abuse.
“But wait!” you might say. “I don’t live in Côte d’Ivoire. I’ve never met this hypothetical person. They don’t affect my life in ways I notice.”
Yes and no. Look at what you wear. Look at what you eat. The UK imports so much of its food (around 40%, actually considered fairly low in modern terms) and clothes (£7.12bn in 2011) that it’s highly likely that the developing world, or “global south”, has had its impact on your life.
So if the global south contributes to our lives, surely it makes sense that we should contribute to theirs? The global north historically has not had the most positive effect on development in emerging economies, but in the modern age it is high on the agenda.
The model of fairly-traded goods is at the right end of development aid – it is sustainable and long-term, and gives people across the world power and choice. In addition, it takes steps to address trafficking for forced labour on cocoa farms and in clothing factories.
It’s also something that you, as a consumer in the shop, can have an impact on, in a way that won’t diminish the quality of your own life. A recent report called The Cocoa Barometer, authored in part by STOP THE TRAFFIK, states that the average income of cocoa farmers in West Africa is far below the absolute poverty line of $1.25 a day. Compared to the premium we pay on certified goods, you can see the potential effect on these households.
This is why it’s our problem – because it affects us, and we can do something about it.
For me, it comes down to this question: do you believe, if you have the power to improve the quality of someone’s life by choosing one product over another, that you should?
My sister helped out at a neighbour’s birthday party last week, and the birthday boy had a tantrum because his friend took the last ginger beer. I wonder how much exploitation happened along the production path of the ginger in that drink.
I know it’s hard to change your habits. For many people, even in the developed world, it’s a financial burden which is hard to shoulder. But you can do it, and you can make a difference, if you think and if you care.
Shopping ethically is not giving to charity. It’s not paying an inflated price to match an inflated sense of self-righteousness. It’s using our resources and power as a consumer to enact change. It’s paying a fair price, so that others don’t have to pay the price. It’s paying the right price.