My mum has always been a charity shopper, a mender and an up-cycler, so I’ve always had a fairly environmentally-conscious shopping ethos. However, this seriously came to a head earlier this year when I watched the documentary Walmart: the high cost of low price, which exposes the staggering depth of exploitation – both human and environmental, in the US and abroad – perpetrated by that corporation. They are basically able to redistribute the costs of their products by not paying their staff a living wage, by not disposing of chemical waste legally (it’s cheaper to do the wrong thing and pay fines, or hope you’re not caught), by abusing the already under-resourced US welfare system, by shutting small business down and by basically using indentured labour in the developing world. It’s a horrifying and almost painful movie to watch, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. You can watch the whole film here, so set aside an hour one day to watch it.
It occurred to me that, knowing what I now know about that company, I can never again shop at ASDA, the UK’s Walmart-owned chain. Because doing so would feel like a declaration that I simply deserve to save that small amount of money, just by virtue of being me. It would also imply that the children in the sweatshops deserve to be working in sweatshops, just because they were born unlucky. They’re so many worlds away from the big, clean, plentiful aisles of ASDA, the sanitised vision of family life that they are easy to forget. It reminds me very strongly of Omelas; once we know about it, our shared humanity must force us to walk away.
You just have to ask yourself why, if there is an option for cheaper products, not every company sells their items more cheaply. Everyone wants a bargain. Why do supermarkets like Waitrose sell their products for so much more than ASDA? It’s because it’s an ethical company and their prices reflect the cost of a fair wage, good produce and transparent dealings. Price of shopping at ASDA seems small, but the cost is great – it’s just redistributed through so many different channels we can’t see it immediately. But we will see it one day.
A few resources for ethical living:
The People Who Share
[image by Ron Dauphin]