The race to the bottom

So, times are hard at the moment right? Jobs are hard to find, everyone is trying to save money, but we still want to buy, we want it now and we want it cheap. But there’s more to a price than how much goes out of our pocket.

The other day, I asked someone where the fur trimmed gillet they were wearing came from. The response, North Weald Market, but when I asked where it was made and where the materials came from, she did not have a clue and frankly, looked at me like I was a bit odd.

This is exactly my point, many people think no further than the price. But what happens if you go down the supply chain? Where do our things come from, and how does the price affect all the other people along the chain? Cheap products are produced with cheap materials using cheap labour. The labour laws that producers are subject to in the UK and EU are certainly not worldwide. Child labour, lack of sufficient health and safety measures (resulting in injury, exposure to harmful substances and lowered life expectancy), insultingly low wages and terrible, long hours are rife in the developing world where much of the products sold in the developing world come from. Yes, these industries provide valuable trade and employment and an outright boycott is not the answer but making ourselves aware and campaigning for a better deal for these people is key.

Suppliers in the current market are constantly trying to undercut each other, to provide cheaper and cheaper products, no matter the cost to human rights and the environment, this has become known as ‘the race to the bottom’.

I’m passionate about ethical consumerism, consumer power is one of the greatest tools in the ordinary person’s arsenal. Industry is shaped by the consumer, supply and demand, so change the demand and the supply will follow suit.

Take food for example, every day I see adverts from Asda and Aldi purporting to be cheaper than Tesco, cheaper than Sainsbury’s, this all sounds wonderful, but has anyone stopped to ask why? Why are they so cheap? Well in my experience, as the price falls, so do the ethical standards. Cheaper food id often non-fairtrade, non-organic, poor quality and poor welfare. But most people only look at the price and in my experience, cheap and ethical are often, sadly, mutually exclusive.

I try to be an ethical consumer (see my below top tips), I’m not perfect but I try my best. I mainly shop at Sainsbury’s -with the odd trip to a farmers market- because they have a great organic range, do lot’s of MSC (Marine Stewardship Certified – a TRUE indicator of sustainable) fish and are not too horrendously expensive. I happened to be near Morrison’s the other day so I popped in, but could not find anything organic and when I asked at the fish counter they did not stock anything MSC (and neither do my local Tesco), so off I went to Sainsbury’s as usual.

I may not be able to afford going exclusively organic or have the time to research every single thing I buy, but I try to do my bit, especially for Christmas (watch this space). I would really encourage you to do a bit of research into what you are buying and maybe buy a little less and a little more ethically, your conscience with thank you as will those down the supply chain and you can be a part of shaping a better, fairer industry.

Lucy’s Top tips for ethical buying

1. Try to go organic and high welfare – not just food but cotton, bathing products and gifts

2. Buy sustainable, acronyms are your friend go for MSC for fish, FSC for wood and paper and buy recycled, repurposed and upcycled where you can, besides palate furniture is pretty chic

3. Buy products from charities such as gifts

4.Buy fair-trade to send a message to suppliers that consumers care about the welfare of others

5. Buy from local and small traders – help out the little guy and the chances are they have sources their products or materials more consciously

6. Make conscious decisions, think and research what you are buying

So even though times are hard and we may not always be afford ethical purchases, but if we are conscious in our decision making and all try to do our bit -especially at Christmas when consumerism is utterly rampant-  it will make a huge difference to the market and suppliers will sit up and pay attention.

Thanks for reading,

Lucy

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