This week’s blog comes from Aoife Kirk. Aoife is a graduate of Politics and History in NUI Maynooth. She has been involved with Development Perspectives since 2014 and was a leader on this year’s Insight programme.
In a country where we have so many products available to us and are reminded on a daily basis by our TVs, radios and public buses to BUY, BUY, BUY it can be difficult to be an ethical consumer. There are moral and ethical issues attached to a range of products that can be tackled by us, the shoppers. Where these items come from matter, who made/grew them also matter. Large branded companies are responsible for where our goods come from, and it is up to us to hold them accountable for their actions when they do more harm than good. How we buy is our voice in the consumerist world and it has the power to change how companies do their business.
It has become popular in recent years to buy fairly- traded goods, to buy local as well as organic, sustainably farmed goods. But where can you, the average joe soap with not a lot of cash to splash, find these things at an economical price? Well, that’s where I come in. Here are 6 tips on how to find your ethically produced goods and what you can do to change the world as an active consumer!
1. What always springs to my mind when I think of boycotts are the Dunnes workers in the 80s who refused to handle produce from South Africa because of the apartheid regime. They protested outside of Dunnes for almost 3 years and gathered huge support from the public and the media. Their boycott was successful and the Irish government banned South African products. People boycott countries and companies for various reasons and if you are passionate about any injustices they do, I recommend a good old-fashioned boycott. Click here to find a list of ongoing boycotts: http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/boycotts.aspx
If you’re passionate about animal rights, human rights, corporate responsibility etc. etc. you’ll be sure to find something here.
2. If boycotting is not for you, then you can increase your purchases of fairly-traded goods. Swap that Kenco or Nescafé for something made by African or South American producers. There is an organisation in Ireland and the UK called Value Added in Africa that sources finished products in Africa and then markets and sells them in stores near you! Look out for the Proudly Made in Africa logo and you’ll know it’s coming from an authentic and ethical producer. Here is a list of products and stores that are available in Ireland: http://www.proudlymadeinafrica.org/products-and-stockists/stockists/ireland And to top it all off, you can also buy online!
3. Buying locally grown food is becoming more popular yet many fruit and veg markets don’t survive the competition with supermarkets. Try to add at least one locally sourced fruit or veg in your weekly shop and you can make a big difference to your local economy. It also reduces the carbon footprint of your food. When you buy a spud that comes from the farm down the road it doesn’t have very far to go to get to the shop. Plus, you know where it has come from and that it’s fresh! Or if you’re feeling extra adventurous, why not grow your own?! Even if it’s just a few tomato plants, some herbs or lettuce. Make do with what you have in your garden, or even invest in some plant pots. If you’re looking for more exotic things, find out where it’s coming from or invest in a glass house!
4. Palm oil is used in so many foods that we use on a regular basis. Peanut butter, being one of my most favourite things in the world, can contain palm oil. The farming of palm oil has for too long been causing deforestation around the world, but mainly in Indonesia and Malaysia. In turn, it has destroyed the homes of our cousins, the orangutans. A non-profit organisation called the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil has been set up and some companies, products and other stakeholders have signed up to it. They have agreed to use only sustainably farmed palm oil in their products. The great news is, is that ALDI have signed up to this agreement and that info is available on their website https://corporate.aldi.ie/en/responsibility/resources-for-our-products/palm-oil/. In fact, most stores have a responsibility or sustainability section on their websites so the consumer can inform themselves on certified products. This goes for fair-trade goods and sustainably farmed goods.
5. In keeping with our sustainability theme, I’m going to move away from food and focus on upcycling, second-hand stores and flea markets. On the continent, this is the norm, but in Ireland, it seems people always want to buy something brand new. The world has a finite amount of resources and we forever cannot keep buying newly produced furniture, TVs, laptops, tablets, books, clothes, the list goes on. If something is still good, use it. Change it up to suit you, to suit new trends. We have so many outlets to get good quality, peer reviewed second hand items. For instance, Donedeal.ie and Adverts.ie are excellent platforms for taking someone’s old bedside table and turning it into your hall locker for your phone, notes, plant-holder, whatever you want! Flea markets and car boot sales are also treasure troves when you’re looking for those shoes, that bookcase or an old blockia that you could really use for that festival next weekend. If there is a demand for buying second hand, the amount of newly produced goods will decrease and that’s good news for our natural resources.
6. My final tip! If you really don’t need it, then don’t buy it. If you already have six pairs of jeans, but only wear three of them, then odds are you don’t need another pair of jeans. Reduce what you buy on a weekly basis. It saves you money to spend on ethically produced goods and could help you upcycle your antique furniture. If you are thinking of doing a spring clean, try to re-sell or donate your stuff. Do your bit to contribute to the new recycling trend and embrace your inner consumer activist!
I’ll leave you with a video called The Story of Stuff that has always encouraged me to give a thought before I bought: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9GorqroigqM