“To buy or not to buy…”

This is the question!  You may have had a moment when you considered the impact consumerism has on the planet and felt a slight twinge of guilt.  It may have been sparked by seeing apples from New Zealand in the shops when our own are on the trees, or the excessive amount of packaging around Easter eggs and Christmas selection boxes.  Should we feel uneasy about the ethical, social and environmental effects of living in a “more is more” culture?

Most of the time these thoughts simply flash in and out of our minds.  However, we are becoming more aware of the dreadful impacts of ‘fast fashion’ and unfair trade, both directly on the workers and the environment.  The collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2013, which killed 1,129 people and injured 3,000, led many to think more seriously about the effect of our consumer choices on the health and well-being of people on the other side of the world.  More recently, Stacey Dooley covered fast fashion in one of her investigations: www.bbc.co.uk/bbcthree/article/5a1a43b5-cbae-4a42-8271-48f53b63bd07

We will almost certainly never meet the people who make our clothes.  And yet the brands that employed workers at the Rana Plaza included popular high street names.  It is quite shocking to think that we could own a piece of clothing that was made by someone who died in the factory collapse.  It brings a distant reality crashing home, and we shouldn’t grow indifferent to it.  It is tough to make well-informed consumer choices and it takes time, but we can help each other with this as a community.  We just need to get the conversation going.  If these chats lead to helping alleviate poverty and preventing exploitation, then that is pretty exciting!  The fact our choices have that kind of power is both empowering and humbling.

As we seek to buy items that aren’t made at the expense of those who produce them, we need to start asking the following questions:

  • Who makes these products?
  • Where did they come from?
  • What sort of social or environmental impact does the company have?

Ethical Consumer is an excellent service that assess different categories of items and companies for their ethical ratings. www.ethicalconsumer.org  An online subscription makes an excellent and year-round useful gift.

Here are some activities that could help:

  • Supporting Fair Trade shops and stalls
  • Holding a clothes-swapping party/swap shop
  • Getting a group of friends together to customise tired items to give them a new lease of life
  • Spending an afternoon having a browse around the charity shops
  • Getting excited about products that are good, in every sense of the word.
  • Also, as we are approaching Christmas, if you want a change of decorations, why not do a swap with a friend?


Adapted and updated with permission from a 2014 article by the Wye Church Eco-congregation working group.

Photo by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels

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