Thursday, June 17, 2010

Shopping - your most political act

Usually when we think of political acts, we think of voting and elections and political parties and maybe even political protests. Well, I'd like you to think about this premise: that shopping is the most political act you will ever undertake.

What?? (or, as the Thai love to shriek, "array wah??!!")

Politics is nothing more than the system we make for managing and governing groups of people, whether that be at the local community level or on a national level. And right at the heart of the growth of a community and the health of a national economy is the age-old issue of the flow of money and resources.

The choice I make of where and how I shop profoundly affects people, whether I am conscious of this fact or not.

Let me share a living example from Chiang Mai, Thailand. In my local village, there is a Thai mini-mart that sells everything you could ever want, next door to a newly established Tesco-mini mart. The Tesco is brighter and bigger and has better aircon, but is actually more expensive and has less products to choose from; it is also part of a multi-national retail group which ultimately siphons the profits back to the UK. So if I spend my 1,000 baht at Tesco, after costs and taxes etc are paid, the profit goes to the UK, which enriches the UK economy in the longer term. If, however, I choose to spend that same 1,000 baht at the Thai mini-mart next door, the same profit will be spent here in Thailand by the lovely Thai people who own that business. And then they, in turn, have the choice to enrich another Thai business, which grows the developing Thai economy.

When you buy fair trade products, you are literally buying into an ethos about all people having the right to a fair livelihood and fair employment conditions. You are literally putting money into the hands of a responsible employer so that they can go out and make another fair job for another person, which removes the financial burden from the state in the longer term.

When you buy direct from the manufacturer or grower, you are likewise making the growth of employment far more likely. With every middle man and distributor and level of administration involved in a financial transaction, you are reducing the amount that is returned to that person at the end of the line, the manufacturer, who is making something valuable and paying people to help them.

When you buy natural products that use ingredients directly grown on small farms and landholdings, you are supporting rural people who often struggle to get by. Conversely, when you buy a chemically enhanced non-natural product, you are using your money to support multi-national business, questionable industrial practices and, in the long term, depleting the health budget as the longer term results of chemical use manifest in our bodies.

Who would have thought that the simple, mindless act of a little retail therapy could have such a far reaching effect?

Next time you reach for your wallet to go shopping, think about what you're doing. Choose to shop wisely for products that will enhance the world we live in, not deplete and damage it further. Choose products that will put money back into the hands of responsible employers, not the greedy owners of a sweatshop somewhere. Choose products that will give long-term sustainability to our communities, countries and the world we live in.

So live, shop.... enjoy exercising your political rights! :)


  1. Marike thank you for this article. It is so true.
    In the over industrialised world where I am living in (the netherlands) we are very far away from this ideas. You really have to go find shops and products that are natural and not artificially enhanced.