Hello, my name is Sharon and I write the Miss Beau Bangles ethical fashion and lifestyle blog. I was recently asked by Pam to write a blog post for her Con-fused Arts website on why it’s important to buy fair trade or ethical Christmas gifts. I jumped at the chance. I have followed Pam’s work for a while now and the work of the Kazuri women whose stunning jewellery she sells for even longer, and I admire both greatly. So it is an honour to be asked to express my humble views on Pam’s website and I hope I do the opportunity justice.
If you are a follower of Con-fused Arts’ work then you are probably well versed in what fair trade is all about, so rather than a descriptive article on the benefits of fair trade, I’ve decided to make this a personal piece that explains my own motivations to take a more ethical approach to my Christmas shopping. For me, there are three reasons why I will be shopping as ethically as possible this year:
Fairer Distribution of Wealth:
For me, the single most important reason for shopping more ethically this Christmas is an economic one. I want to see a fairer distribution of wealth in the retail industry.
The Centre for Retail Research reported that Christmas spending among consumers in the UK was an estimated £70 billion in 2012. This includes money spent in shops and online. £3 billion of that figure was spent on Boxing day alone.
Wow! That is a lot of money for one tiny little island to spend on one celebration. The vast majority of this money is spent in a relatively small number of large multi-national retailers, whose profits are paid out to shareholders. We shop there because it is easy. These retailers have lots of money to put on amazing TV adverts to show us what they sell and to entice us into their readily accessible and beautifully decorated stores to buy their products. And at this time of year, we could all do with making our lives easy, right!
Yet there are many small businesses in your local area, and in developing countries all over the world who make and sell amazing products, but as a small business they struggle every day to compete in a fierce marketplace. They don’t have large marketing budgets and many can’t afford a bricks and mortar store on a high street, and so they are not so accessible to us as consumers. To be found, they require a little effort from us in seeking them out.
But why should we seek them out? Well, as I already mentioned, there are some fabulous products out there, but I’ll come back to this point later. The other reason is that, without our support, these small business cannot survive, yet they are hugely important to the economies in which they exist. In developed countries they create a diversity in terms of the products available to us as consumers, they can often offer a much more personalised level of service to consumers, and they provide a more diverse range of employment opportunities for the communities in which they are located.
In developing countries, small businesses that operate with a fair trade ethos have an even more pronounced importance. These businesses are empowering their employees and helping them to move out of poverty, thereby improving the chances that they and their children will have access to improved health, education and quality of life. In developing countries these small, fair trade businesses can be a matter of life or death for some people. To me, that’s got to be something worth keeping, and if we want to keep them, they need our business.
Supporting Businesses that Value Human Rights:
My second reason for shopping more ethically this Christmas is a human rights issue. For years we have been reading about poor working conditions in the factories that supply many of our largest retailers. However this year the issue has been brought into much sharper focus after over 1,000 people were killed when the Rana Plaza building collapsed in Bangladesh. Many more lost their lives this year in numerous factory fires caused by unsafe working practices. And as BBC’s Panorama programme, “Dying for a Bargain” recently revealed, some factories operate a compulsory overtime policy that has people working as much as 18 hours per day.
When shopping on the High Street, it is hugely difficult as consumers to know whether or not we are buying from a store which uses factories that operate humanely and safely. For that reason, I have chosen to make an effort where possible to seek out retailers who I can be sure value the human rights of their employees and those in their supply chain at least as much as they value profits. Surely, in this day and age, with the vast wealth that exists, asking for employees to be treated humanely and not like slaves is not too much to ask. The businesses that understand this are the ones I want to spend my money with.
Gifts that Reflect the Essence of Christmas:
Thirdly, shopping more ethically is a great way to find gifts that are the true essence of Christmas. I mentioned earlier that small and fair trade businesses offer some fantastic products. Many of these products are not widely available and so have a special uniqueness. Many are handmade and so are truly individual. Many can be personalised, and many have a fabulous story to tell, such as that of the jewellery made by the Kazuri ladies.
One of the product stories I love, is of a group of Senegalese ladies who call themselves Groupement Takku Liggey. These ladies lead a hand to mouth existence, selling things like fish, rice, cold water and donuts at a local market to survive. A few years ago, with the support of a woman from Edinburgh they began making products such as shopper bags, tablecloths, and aprons using African print fabrics they bought locally. These products are now being sold in small quantities in various countries around the world, and with their first profits the ladies have bought two cows for the co-operative to rear and sell, bringing benefits and further income to be shared among the community. You can see one of the women pictured above with one of the cows. Isn’t that a wonderful smile!
Now imagine the faces of your family and friends as you give them their ethical gift and they hear the story behind it, appreciate its uniqueness and admire the craftsmanship that has gone into it. By taking a little time to look beyond the major retailers this year, I’ve uncovered some wonderful products with some wonderful stories, and I’m sure you will to.
How to get Started
I hope after reading this blog post you are feeling at least a little inspired. If you are, then you may be wondering how to begin shopping more ethically this Christmas. If you are looking for jewellery, of course Con-fused Arts is a great place to start. Over at Miss Beau Bangles I have written a blog post that makes some suggestions for great ethical Christmas gifts, including a fair trade recipe book, bamboo socks, and a recycled tyre wallet from Traidcraft; jewellery from Con-fused Arts and Miss Beau Bangles; and an eco-soy candle from Robin & Rose. Why not try doing an internet search for “ethical gifts”, or if you know what you are looking for, try sticking the word ethical or fair trade at the start of your search term. You might also want to seek out some blogs that have an ethical focus, as these are a great source of advice and inspiration. Facebook has some fabulous businesses selling fair trade and handmade products so why not follow a few.
Whatever route you choose, I hope your friends and family love their ethical gifts, and I hope you all have a truly wonderful festive period.