We are continuously being shown how our lives are impacted by massively disastrous events and systems of power. We know that climate change is happening (regardless of humans involvement), we know that a period of mass extinction is happening (regardless of human involvement) and people are being mistreated in parts of the world by other people.
I was walking down Commercial Road the other day and realised something- Primark still exists. At first, this seemed normal: ‘Oh yeah, that shop is still a place people go and it is actually quite busy’. Then I remembered something odd- a few years ago, a dress reportedly had a note sewn into it from a sweatshop worker. This proved to be fake and the world seemed to move on. But we were ignoring a larger cry: Primark uses slave labour. This is not only isolated to Primark; lots of clothing stores use sources of labour that are not one hundred percent ethical, but we, as consumers, are donkeys being led by a cheap carrot dangled in front of us.
“The harsh reality is that it takes time to research and find ways of buying ethical clothing – time and effort not everyone has.”
Pricing is a big factor; people do not want to pay large amounts when it is not in our budget. Ever since I was in secondary school, I have disowned Primark as a place to purchase my clothes – though that hardly means that I am achieving long term success in avoiding items made in sweat shops. The harsh reality is that it takes time to research and find ways of buying ethical clothing – time and effort not everyone has. Companies such as ‘Thought’, which make socks made of bamboo, are an excellent alternative to cheaply made socks, which you can buy in a range of UK stores. However, the company is not widely known about unless ethical clothing is something that you are passionate about.
An article published in the New York Times in 2017 illustrated the reality of factory workers in Ethiopia. A group of journalists went out to study and group of workers in a range of jobs – from a beverage bottling plant to a shoe making factory and most other things in between. What the group found was that, to their surprise, most people who got an industrial job soon changed their minds. A majority quit within the first couple of months. They ended up doing what those who had not been offered a job did — going back to the family farm, taking a construction job or selling goods at the market.
As it turns out, quitting was a wise decision for most. The alternatives were not so bad after all. People who worked in agriculture or market selling earned about as much money as they could have at the factory – often with fewer hours and in better working conditions. By the end of a year, only a third of the people who had landed an industrial job were still employed in the industrial sector at all.
“We know that using fossil fuels is bad for the environment but we are not presented with affordable or easily obtainable solutions.”
It would be easy to see this as the normal trial-and-error of young people starting out careers, but actually the factory jobs carried large amount of risk. The number of serious injuries and disabilities were nearly double among those who took the factory jobs, rising to 7 percent from about 4 percent. This risk rose with every month they stayed. The people that were interviewed told the research team about exposure to chemical fumes and repetitive stress injuries.
Throughout various industries, consumers are left in a limbo of half knowing things and being left in the dark. We know that using fossil fuels is bad for the environment but we are not presented with affordable or easily obtainable solutions; supermarket veg and fruit still comes packed in plastic and solar panels are expensive and not accessible to a wide range of people. As a consumer, it becomes difficult to fight or strive for change when you are merely one person. You can have your reusable shopping bag, but other shoppers are still paying 5p for a bag every time they shop just so they can throw it away later.
“It is difficult to separate ourselves from the institutions that do us harm because we don’t have an alternative that is as good.”
Although not applicable to environmental or human labour issues, corporations such as Amazon and Google are publicly known to not pay corporation tax in the UK. However, they are using a legal loophole to do so. A loophole that still exists. As a consumer, you can choose not to use their services but they make it difficult within our capitalist society, with cheap prices on Amazon and the major search engine, Google (which is just way better than Bing). It is difficult to separate ourselves from the institutions that do us harm because we don’t have an alternative that is as good. However, that does not mean that they aren’t out there. Ecosia is a search engine that is dedicated to improving our planet. It is a search engine that uses at least 80% of its profits from search ad revenue for tree planting projects all over the world. It is available as an app on Google and iOS as well as an extensions on Chrome and Safari. This is literally the smallest change you could possibly make to your everyday life which still has a large impact.
As a society, we are bullied into submission when these things are happening all around us – shown a new carrot when the other one starts to rot away before our eyes. Start buying fruit and veg without plastic wrappers on them, start reusing plastic blags and refilling plastic bottles, invest in a reusable coffee cup for hot drinks on the go. These little changes matter if made on a big scale.
As consumers, we are the most important and dangerous part of the production line. If we stop buying into these goods and services which aim to rob, endanger and abuse our planet or its animals and people, they will have to change. Buying cruelty-free make up stops animal testing clinics being needed and stops animals being abused and mistreated. Buying clothes from ethical places that treat garment workers with respect and care allows people to work out of poverty and build global economies.
Take the time and do your research, find better and smarter ways to work in the world. It seems daunting and tough, but staying educated about how to best care and nurture our planet is the only way we will be able to sustain it for as long as we can. By thinking more ethically about how we shop and live, we can start to see clear ways of instigating change throughout a range of systems.
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