Filed under: Ethical Purchasing Policies
By Amanda Wilson
Just some thoughts I’ve been having for a while now..thought I would share:
It can be very easy for student activists to become immersed in the task at hand to achieve our immediate goals and win the campaign. But this may cause us to forget our underlying reasons for engaging in ethical purchasing campaigns. The end goal is not the ability to drink a cup of fair trade coffee on campus or to purchase a university sweatshirt without guilt. The end goal is to support workers and their struggles, and to engage in international solidarity. Ethical Purchasing Policies are an opportunity for us to leverage our power by creating spaces where workers and farmers can earn a decent living, under decent conditions and enjoy the rights that they demand and deserve.
I think we are beginning to forget these roots, and in doing so we risk losing focus and tumbling into a protectionist or paternalistic discourse, a charity-based approach. It’s not about the chocolate bars and it’s not about the tee shirts. They are only means to a more important end. Fair Trade is a way for privileged, largely white and middle class consumers to support the efforts of farmers and producers in the developing world to make a decent living and enjoy their rights. No Sweat is a way for privileged, largely white middle class consumers to support the organizing efforts of garment workers to improve their worker conditions and enjoyment of their rights.
In our work, we must remember the end goal and realize what the implications are. If our end goal is labour solidarity, then ethical purchasing campaigns are only one way to achieve it. We must also enter the political realm: we must be political subjects and engage in political acts. This means supporting both local and international struggles, and getting away from meetings, conferences and educational films to engage in a diversity of tactics and alliances with a diversity of groups. Just as protests, rallies, sit-ins are not ends in themselves but strategies to further other ends, ethical purchasing policies must be seen in a similar light. They are strategies that have both pros and cons. To be effective, like any other strategy, they need to be situated within a broader politics that drives and informs the campaign. Ethical purchasing is not a substitute for questioning corporate control, power imbalances, neoliberalism or capitalism itself.
This is not to say that ethical purchasing is not a worthwhile endeavor. It is. Ethical purchasing has an important role to play in supporting workers and producers around the world. However, securing an ethical purchasing policy is not the end of the struggle; in fact, it only signals the beginning.
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