Sunday, 30 September 2012

Blood, Sweat and Luxuries

Yesterday evening I caught the tail-end of a BBC documentary titled Blood, Sweat and Luxuries (I think c2010). Apparently it was a six-part series - episodes include Gems, Leather, Coffee, Gold/Computers/E-Waste, Technology and Blood, Sweat and Me. It follows six young British consumers who swap their luxury lives to work alongside the people who mine, manufacture, process and recycle luxury goods in Africa and Asia.

Image courtesy of BBC UK blog
Not only in Britain today but around the world, what were once luxuries are fast becoming everyday items. From gems, leather products such as handbags and shoes, coffee, gold, computers and other technology - as more and more is consumed, products are becoming increasingly disposable. So the question is: Would consumers care more if they knew the human cost of making luxuries?

I have so much to say on this subject as many other issues feed in and out of it, issues that inform the way I want to live my life and the reasons why I chose to start my business... or more so why I chose to go down the path of starting a business that is based on sustainable, eco-friendly and ethical practices.

Even today, where we have made huge inroads and have more access to 'green' materials / supplies it is still incredibly hard and time-consuming to run a business like this (in Australia anyway) and probably why I feel, even after 2 years, that I am still setting the business up. This is a whole other discussion on its own (and referenced in other posts by me)... and also from this stems the pricing discussion. I posted something on my facebook page about this... so, the pricing thing is really at the basis of this post too...

I only caught the tail-end of the documentary and I don't know which episode I was watching - I would say it was the last one - 'Blood, sweat and me'. After their experiences one of the young ladies visits the owner of a factory that employs people to manufacture components for electrical goods, I imagine televisions, computers, etc.

The conversation basically came down to him saying that 'they' (referring to the 3rd world in general) know where their place is in the chain and that the west, which is where these good are destined for, are demanding more and more value for money. He said, (in my opinion in a rather defeatist attitude) 'if we don't do it someone else will'... and this, my friends, is the crux of the problem!

They do it for survival, for fear of losing contracts and it becomes so competitive that they are virtually wanting people to work for nothing. The frustration I felt at that conversation made me want to scream, not only at the injustice of it all but also how I feel so many people seem to be missing the point. This is a real thing for me at the moment, everywhere I look, we seem to be missing the point... WE HAVE TO TREAT THE CAUSE NOT THE EFFECT. We waste so much time and energy treating the effect of so many things that are currently wrong on our planet. Fortunately there are people out there that realise they need to treat the cause, I just wish everyone could get this.

One example of treating the cause would be Shelano Australia (this is not a paid advertisement, just using this example to illustrate what I mean:

'Kolkata India is home to some of the poorest communities in the world :: Many young women live in the various slums near the railway tracks and live a daily struggle just to feed and clothe their family. Through poverty and desperation, many of these women are forced to work in one of the biggest red light areas in the world :: Shelano was established out of a desire to bring freedom to these women who have very limited education and are at the risk of abuse :: Shelano train and employ these local women giving them the opportunity that they would not be given otherwise. This then provides them with dignity, independence and the ability to give themselves, and their family a brighter future :: Our hope is that after generations of this lifestyle, the cycle is broken :: By purchasing from Shelano, you are not only getting a fairly traded product, you are helping fight the cycle of poverty by enabling these women the opportunity to take care of herself and her whole family.'

So if it is possible for these women why is it not possible for all or other 3rd world communities to start something like this and end the cycle of poverty or the need to go to work where conditions are well below average. Who is to blame for the beliefs that came up in the conversation that took place between the factory owner and the young lady in the documentary? The factory owner / manufacturer, for quoting such low prices then having to pay their employees such low wages? The retailer, for quoting such low prices then having to pay the manufacturer low prices who in turn have to pay their employees such low wages... or is it the consumer who demands such low prices? Are they really demanding it or has the precedence been set by retailers and in turn their mind set is now locked in to bargain, bargain, bargain mode. The debate that has come about as a result is 'by buying these products aren't we condoning exploitation?' OR 'if we don't buy these products, these people won't have jobs, they couldn't afford food or shelter, they'd be worse off wouldn't they?'

There is no question where I stand on this matter... the latter is clearly the propaganda the corporations responsible would want us to believe - it justifies what they are doing.

So, for me, treating the cause in this situation would be that we no longer take such advantage of 3rd world countries because we know they are desperate and hungry and will need to do anything to survive... but because they are out of sight they are also out of mind. We don't stop to think about where the stuff we buy for such bargain basement prices comes from... we are so disconnected from the source of everything in our daily lives it is astounding... we don't question where our food comes from - no... not the supermarket; we don't question where our water comes from - no... not the tap; we don't question where our gas comes from - no... not the stove or the heater... and we certainly don't question where our other everyday luxuries come from. But if we look at the success of initiatives such as Shelano and other similar ones then we know it can be done.

Until we send a clear message that we care about other human beings and believe in equal rights for everyone on this planet (apart from the really bad, evil people) then this cycle will continue... and of course there are many middle men getting very fat off the proverbial lamb who simply don't want it to end and will keep us all in the dark for as long as possible in any way possible... sometimes even silencing people permanently.

So when you get your brand spanking new fabulous shiny piece of marvelous technology, or your lovely new leather shoes or designer handbag, or the bling... ask yourself where it came from... I think you will be quite shocked to know the truth.

I want to shout out to the world 'wake up everyone! start to become involved in what you put into your body and what you bring into your home.' Make informed choices at the supermarket and department store or better still... shop local and support independent businesses! Nothing will send a clearer message to the large corporations monopolising the market. We have to learn to pay what things are worth, we have to learn to price things accordingly!