Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tempted by a Bargain?

Ling was born in China. When she was 19 years old, she was persuaded to go to Europe with the promise of a job and a better life - both for her, and for her family who stayed behind.
She was given a job as a textile worker in a factory. The salary promised was €800 per month which was much more than she could ever hope to earn in Hanuin. She works 16 hours a day, and is not allowed to leave the factory except to return to the small apartment she shares with six other factory employees. She does not receive the salary that she was promised, and is rarely paid anything at all.
You may have purchased a sweater made by Ling.’ (IOM,2008).
I don’t want to buy clothing that imprisons girls like Ling. I want to buy items that empower them.
I am currently working in Singapore for 5 weeks and the temptation to buy cheap clothing manufactured in Asia is all around me. Usually I would jump at a bargain, but my conscious no longer allows me to do this as when you purchase a product, you are supporting the way that product was produced. If the product is the result of someone’s forced labor, you are encouraging the company which has relied on forced labor to continue relying on forced labor.
I am sure when it comes down to it, none of us want to support forced labor with our retail purchases, but the fact is it is very difficult to distinguish which companies exploit their workers and which don’t, as the global supply chain system is so complex.
I have started walking to and from work whilst in Singapore, which is not only great for my health, but also solves my issue of purchasing unethical petrol temporarily! However, my laptop was getting a tad heavy and therefore I needed to purchase a backpack. But where could I possibly find an ethical lyproduced backpack?
I managed to do some research and found many resources that can assist you in making a decision about what brands manufacture their items with a social conscious.
Free to Work
On Free2work.org, consumers can easily search specific products, learn more about various labour standards and corporate practices, and further their engagement through their consumption decisions.
Ethical Clothing Australia
Assisting the local textile, clothing and footwear industry to ensure Australian workers receive fair wages and decent conditions.
Business Social Compliance Initiative
The Business Social Compliance Initiative is a leading business-driven initiative for companies committed to improving working conditions in the global supply chain.
All of the above websites rank or list brands based on the companies’ compliance with ethical standards and labour laws. From this I picked up some common brands that I encounter every time I enter a shopping centre that abide by such standards:
  • GAP
  • Bardot
  • Cue
  • Levi’s
  • Billabong
And although I cannot verify that they have signed up to international standards, Target and Cotton On have Ethical Sourcing Codes that all of their suppliers must comply with.
So really, with a bit of prior research it is not too difficult to purchase ethical clothing. You may just have to avoid the temptation to purchase on a whim, and only purchase an item once you have researched the brand. This may also assist with budgeting as you will be less inclined to buy items you don’t really need!
So, long story short I was able to purchase a backpack from an ESPIRIT store. Although it cost me more than a cheap backpack from one of the markets here in Singapore, I felt better knowing that the person made it was not working in a sweatshop with their feet chained to a table for 16 hours a day.
And although it is very difficult to walk past pretty dresses selling for $5 here in the markets,  I would prefer not to wear an item on my body that endorses slavery, even it was a bargain.
For additional information on labor laws and actions you can take towards ethical consumerism go to:
Organization for International Migration. (2008). We Buy They Pay. Retrieved 25 January 2011 from http://www.buyresponsibly.org/

Friday, January 14, 2011

Cosmetics: A Deadly Industry

This week’s post is going to be short & sweet, because I am going to let the below video tell you everything I want to.
The ‘Story of Stuff: Cosmetics’ awoke me to the fact that every time I stepped into the bathroom of a morning, I was in fact going in there to poison my body. The day after I watched this I threw out all of my old cosmetics and started again...
Some may see this as waste, and an expensive one at that, but when you realise the harm that you are doing to your body every time you wash your hair, moisturise your body and put make-up on, even though you are doing these things to be ‘healthy’, you might reassess your bathroom cupboard too.
Now I hope I haven’t frightened you off too much. Go on, watch it. It might just save you and your children’s lives.
Have you watched it? No wonder rates of cancer in Australia have been on the rise over the last few decades. In 1982, 47,350 new cases of cancer were diagnosed in Australia compared with 108,368 cases in 2007 (Cancer Australia).
Due to the frightening facts mentioned in this short clip, I conclude that buying products with harmful products in them cannot be classified as ethical. If manufacturers are placing these chemicals in the products we buy, knowing full well the risks involved then I do not wish to give my money to such a company.
I challenge you to go to the below website and research the risk rating for ingredients in the products you use. You might be surprised by the result.
Thank-fully there are now many alternative options available in the Australia market. This week I purchased chemical free natural shampoo, conditioner, moisturiser and sunscreen through Australian company ‘Natural Instinct’ available at Priceline and most major supermarkets. I found the products to be super effective and my hairdresser even said she has never seen my hair so healthy! Natural Instinct have a range of other products so make sure you check them out.
I also purchased 100% natural makeup made by another Australian company ‘Nude by Nature.’ The makeup is made from organic clays and minerals and allows you skin to breath while giving me the best coverage I have ever had. My skin looks great all day!
Both Natural Instict and Nude by Nature do not test their products on animals.
I did have one muck-up this week in the area of cosmetics whilst pursuing my ethical shopping ideal. I went to the hairdresser to get my hair coloured, and before going to my appointment did ask that she use a brand that is somewhat organic and does not test on animals. She said that should not be a problem but upon arrival I found that she had purchased Wella’s which is apparently not tested on animals but is owned by Proctor & Gamble USA which has a boycott called against them due to  laboratory experiments on and cruelty to animals. Oops! If anyone can help me in sourcing professional hair colour that actually works (not henna as I am blonde) and is produced by an ethical company I would be most grateful!
I hope I have prompted you into action this week!
PS- If you would like more information about why products tested on animals are unethical, go to.
AIHW, CA (Cancer Australia) & AACR (Australasian Association of Cancer Registries) 2008. Cancer survival and prevalence in Australia: cancers diagnosed from 1982 to 2004. Cancer series no. 42. Cat. No. CAN 38. Canberra: AIHW.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Petroleum- Pick Your Poison

I started week one of my ethical shopping challenge rearing and ready to go! However, on day four I faced a road block, and the ethical shopping challenge started to become much more difficult than I had anticipated, for the simple fact that I need to drive to work. And in order to drive, my car requires the age old evil... petroleum.
Now let me begin by explaining that I am well aware that it is more environmentally to take public transport or ride a bike to work. However, I live 55.5 km away from the office in which I work. It would literally take me a number of days to ride to work, and I doubt I would even make it without passing out!  I have extensively researched the public transport route, which unfortunately would involve two trains and a bus, totalling three hours in travel one way. Maybe it is selfish, but I just can’t afford to spend six hours a day travelling to and from work!
In order to mitigate my impact on the environment, I have been carpooling to work for over three years which is saving at least one other car per day from being on the road, and in addition, I have an arrangement in which I work three days in the office and two days from home.  However, these actions do not entirely solve my problem- I still require petrol in my tank to get to where I need to be at least three days of the week!
We all know the environmental impacts of using petrol in our vehicles, and we have seen the social and environmental impacts of oil spills on television, but further research has lead me to some disturbing facts about the petroleum industry;
  • Shell has been condemned by many organizations, including the Sierra Club, for its support of the military government in Nigeria. In 1995, nine Ogoni activists were killed for protesting against the company's Nigerian operations (Ives & Boyd, 2007).
  • Exxon Mobil's pipeline project from Chad in West Africa to the coast of Cameroon cuts through indigenous communities' rainforest homes. Last January, the project generated new controversy when Chad's government diverted money generated from petroleum revenue away from poverty-relief and social programs (Ives & Boyd, 2007).
  • BP heads a coalition of oil and gas companies throughout Europe and are building a pipeline across Azerbaijan, the Republic of Georgia, and Turkey. The project has led to widespread dislocation of local residents. Watchdog groups are concerned about complaints of contaminated water supplies and landslides triggered by pipeline construction (Ives & Boyd, 2007).
In looking at alternative options to oil, biofuels are often marketed as a sustainable option, however according to Oxfam, the impacts of biofuels are often disastrous for people in the developing world. Why? Because Biofuels are made using food crops which in turn pushes up the price of food in developing nations. Oxfam calculates that rich country biofuel policies have dragged more than 30 million people into poverty, according to evidence that biofuels have already contributed up to 30% to the global rise in food prices.

            “Biofuel policies are actually helping to accelerate climate change and deepen poverty and hunger. Rich countries’ demands for more biofuels in their transport fuels are causing spiralling production and food inflation”- Oxfam’s biofuel policy adviser Rob Bailey
(Oxfam International, 2008)
But the fact still remains- I need to drive my car to keep my job and my social life going, so is there any ethical choice when it comes to fuel?
According to a well researched review of oil companies in the USA, called ‘Pick Your Poison : An updated environmentalist's guide to gasoline’ (Ives & Boyd, 2007), oil companies can be rated in the following order:
Top of the Barrel

Middle of the Barrel
Royal Dutch Shell
Valero Energy Corporation

Bottom of the Barrel
ExxonMobil (Mobil, Fuel Zone)ConocoPhillips

Dishonorable Mention

Furthermore, another consumer watchdog source, The Ethical Consumer's Ethiscore has ranked oil companies in the UK from best (#1) to worst ( #9)
1. Murco
2. Jet
3. Elf
4. Shell
5. Total
6. BP
7. Texaco
8. Esso
9. Mobil
(Petrol & Diesel, Ethical Consumer,2011)
According to the above reviews, in the Australia market, Shell would be classified as the most ethical, followed by Caltex, who are owned by Chevron, then BP and lastly Mobil.
So while I am not going to advocate for Shell by any means, when I need to buy fuel for my car I will purchase from Shell. In the mean time, I will continue to car pool, try to use public transport or walk when possible and when the time comes for me to purchase a new car, I will purchase a more sustainable option such as a car that runs on biodiesel, which is produced using waste cooking oil.
According to Biodiesel Producers, replacing petroleum derived diesel fuel with biodiesel offers these advantages:
·         It can be used in most diesel equipment with no modifications or, in some instances, only minor modifications.
·         It reduces global warming gas emissions.
·         It reduces tailpipe emissions, particularly the toxic components.
·         It is essentially free of sulphur, so the emissions do not contribute to acid rain.
·         It is non-toxic, biodegradable, and suitable for sensitive environments.
·         It has a higher flashpoint, so it is safer to store and transport.
(Biodiesel, 2008)

So in conclusion, in order for me to be ethical in my fuel choice, I will need to purchase a new car that can run off biodiesel, which I currently cannot afford. In the mean time I will ‘pick my poison’ and relunctantly purchase from Shell.

Ethical Consumer. (2011). Petrol & Diesel. Retrieved 11 January 2011 from http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/FreeBuyersGuides/traveltransport.aspx
Ives, S. & Boyd, R. (2007). Pick Your Poison : An updated environmentalist's guide to gasoline. Retrieved 8 January 2011 from http://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/pickyourpoison/

Oxfam International. (2008). Another Inconvenient Truth: Biofuels are not the answer to climate or fuel crisis. Retrieved 8 January 2011 from http://www.oxfam.org/pressroom/pressrelease/2008-06-25/another-inconvenient-truth-biofuels-are-not-answer

Biodiesel Producers. (2008). Why Biodiesel. Retrieved 8th January 2011 from http://www.biodieselproducers.com.au/