In my opinion, we as consumers have a lot of power, and we tend to underestimate it. I strongly believe that making choices in your everyday life that reflect your beliefs and convictions is a factor of change in the world, but also of well-being. It actually feels pretty good to have a reason, a purpose, to consume in a way that feels right to us, instead of mindlessly buying for instant gratification, and following trends and cravings.
Although it can be hard to find the motivation to change deeply engraved habits that may seem easy and convenient, it gets easier as it turns into a new habit, and eventually, into a second nature. It also helps to have good reasons to get started. That’s the goal of this series: everyone has issues they feel particularly strongly about, and my goal is to show that you can have an impact on these issues by taking easy steps, wherever you feel like you are standing right now on the path of responsible consumption, and whatever you feel ready or able to commit to.
Ready? Let’s start with a strong statement: there is sometimes a direct link between the everyday products you buy and some of this planet’s most tragic human rights abuses and conflicts. If you think I am exaggerating, go to 1. If you have conquered the dungeon of fair trade and want to continue your quest, go to 2. If you struggle with the ultimate boss, go to 3.
1. Be honest with yourself
If you have no idea where to start: just begin by reading labels and educating yourself about such things as fair trade, while always exercising your critical eye. Ask yourself where things come from, and be honest about what it means (i.e. a 4 euro t-shirt made in Bangladesh was probably not made in the best conditions by a fairly compensated worker – chances are, it was actually made by a kid). Lots of cool clothing companies now pledge to work with communities to make sure they get fair working conditions and to enhance their well-being, for instance Everlane. This blog is also a great resource to learn more about human trafficking.
2. Go beyond the label, and the obvious
Okay, so now you master spotting fair trade labels! But did you know that your phone may be financing local militias in Africa? Indeed, some types of metal like tin, gold or tungsten are used in virtually all of our electronics. When these minerals are mined (before being transformed into metals) in mines controlled by local armed groups, the income generated may be used by these groups to finance a conflict, by buying weapons for instance. Not to mention the exactions that are committed by local militias in certain African countries, such as sexual violence against women. Yes, that really sucks. Although I won’t ask you to stop using your computer (I might ask you to pay attention to how you use it though), there are some cool initiatives happening, my favorite being Fairphone – you should definitely check them out. That’s just an example on how everyday items can have negative consequences in faraway countries, even in conflicts you’d never heard of. Bottom-line: never underestimate your power as a consumer, it’s very real. And do you research, educate yourself, ask questions.
3. Remember that we live in a complex world
So basically, I just told you that everything you do has a potential negative impact. Sorry about that. It may seem super confusing and disheartening, but the good news is, being educated about this kind of things makes a real difference. The other good news is: there are plenty of really cool companies that make beautiful, functional products, while still caring about the communities they rely on and their employees’ well-being and safety. So what is left to do? The next level is to think broader. Of course, good working conditions, conflict-free minerals and educated choices are a great start. But in the end, a lot of things have indirect consequences on a population’s welfare, such as pollution, climate change, general living conditions, etc. From rising waters that swallow entire islands and force populations to emigrate, to wars in the Middle East, the consequences of climate change on populations and peace are broad, unexpected, and unpredictable. The world is a complex place, and you watching your carbon footprint actually has consequences that go far beyond you, even though it might seem like a drop in the ocean.