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Published on 3 September 2005
“To buy is a political act”: pathways towards a responsible consumption
by Hans HARMS
“To buy is a political act”. Responsible consumption represents an effort to simultaneously reduce pollution and consumption. The choices we make as consumers are perhaps the easiest and most effective methods we have of making our opinions relevant to corporate and government decision-makers.
Buying is voting
There are 6 billions of us today, half are under 20. Every move we make is important. This means that you can already vote even if you’re not 18 yet ! How ? Simply in thinking before buying. Two products can give you the same satisfaction. However, they don’t always have the same social and ecological impact. The shopping we do every day is what really generates profits for big firms. Buying a product means helping its manufacturer exist, approving the working conditions of its employees, supporting its production modes, encouraging its concern for the environment (if it has any…). We have a responsibility in each one of our daily activities, even when we buy a football. Remember the scandal during the 1996 European Cup: the balls used for the competition were hand stitched by Pakistani children. As a result, the international football federation and sports brands wrote down recommendations and signed an agreement to abolish child labour in Sialkot (Pakistan), the world’s main football production centre.
What solutions should be adopted ? Shall we stop buying products? This solution is simply unimaginable. Now, more and more possibility are given to consumers to play a role and be actors in this movie called "6 billion little actions will make the difference". Simply, to make it possible, we need to be alerted and informed. Awareness remains the best way to act in a responsible way.
The problem is we still do not have the necessary information on the social and environmental accountability of the enterprises which enable us to develop criteria for a responsible consumption. The elaboration and publication of this information is the task to develop in collaboration with local, regional and national mass media and NGOs.
A concrete experience
In this context the experience of an initiative of the government of the Autonomous Region of Navarre, together with the Eroski Foundation (Eroski is a supermarket chain , which is part of the Mondragón Cooperative – see the file on Mondragón) seems to be interesting. They organized a workshop on this topic in 2004. The aim was to:
establish the creation of a forum of social agents for the responsible consumption that proposes and promotes initiatives in this matter.
- find a consensus between the fundamental agents of the sector about the criteria and definition of what means responsible consumption. These criteria will serve as departure point for the elaboration of a guide on responsable consumption for Navarre.
- develop a first document of proposals that allow to develop a program of social and educative measures which promote the responsible consumption.
In May 2005 (a month ago) the first meeting of the forum took place. More than 20 organizations, representatives of the Public Administration, commerce, associations, companies and NGOs, have participated in the constituent session of the Forum of Responsible Consumption promoted by the Government of Navarre through the Center of Environmental Resources of Navarre, foundation linked to the Department of Environment and the Consumption Service of the Department of Industry and Commerce, Technology and Work.
The Forum, sponsored by the Eroski Foundation and developed in collaboration with the Network of Alternative and Solidarian Economy of Navarre (REAS), has been constituted during an act directed to the participant organizations.
The aim of this instrument is to foment a space of participation, and to encounter and establish commitments that allow the creation of a network in favor of Responsible Consumption in Navarre. The Forum is open to the participation of other organizations which want to collaborate with this initiative, as well as to other sponsors which wish to collaborate in the process.
Published article about this iniciative: www.noticiasdenavarra.com/ediciones/ 2005/05/15/sociedad/navarra
Guidebook about responsable consumption: www.crana.org/archivos/impactos/consumo/ foro_crn_2005/16_06_2005/GRUPOS%20TEMÁTICOS.GUÍA.ppt
A brand new development related to this topic is the idea of launching a label for fairtrade products recently started by several NGO’s of different countries (Germany, Netherlands, France, Great Britain and Canada) and supported by the FLO (Fairtrade Labeling Organization) based in Germany. The labelling of products garantees that these have been produced under worthy working conditions and salaries by its producers. That will say that this label essentially exludes the exploitation of children, a fair price for its producers, respect for the environment and equality in relation to gender aspects.
One important element of this initiative is that these products will not only be sold in the “third world shops” but will be introduced into the important supermarket chains.
More information: http://mipais2.elpais.es/articulo/ elpporsoc/20051017elpepisoc_6/Tes - 35k - 16 Oct 2005 & www.fairtrade.net