Tag Archives: injustice

You are what you buy?

31 Jul

Every now and again, I read something that seems to expose the truth about human beings. It’s not always a pretty truth. Nor is it easy reading. Yet such words are essential reading, for they uncover blind spots and force us to face up to our flaws.

This was one of these articles – brilliantly titled “Admit it. You love cheap clothes. And you don’t care about child slave labour”. I read it in the Observer on Sunday and it’s been bugging me ever since. Bugging me because I know it is true. I know that I am guilty.

Like so many of us, I get upset when I hear about the appalling conditions forced on those who make our clothes/ipads/mobile phones. I might even occasionally boycott a product. But this standing-up-against-injustice tends not to last. Convenience – or my desire – eventually wins the “will I-won’t I?” battle. So I go back into the shop and buy those cheap jeans because – if I am honest – they look good. And I like them. And I want them. I wish this wasn’t true. But, as I face myself and my complicity in the mirror this morning, I just know it is.

Indeed, I recently decided to boycott GAP. My favourite clothes shop in the whole world. And it has been my first choice for years. I love the GAP. And then I heard that, following the collapse of that garment factory in Bangladesh, GAP chose not to sign an accord to improve working conditions in these factories. So I decided not to shop there anymore. 

I’m not telling you this to make myself look good. Far from it. But rather to confess the emotional tussle I feel when I walk past a GAP store. I still miss going in there. Even though I now know some of the true cost of their clothes. I still want them. 

Isn’t this the modern day dilemma? We want that thing, but we don’t like how it was made. And yet, we are so far removed from those who literally slave away to make these things, that we need journalists and campaigners – others far removed from us – to highlight what is really going on. 

We live in a globalised world. And it has, in many ways, dehumanised us. It is easier to turn a blind eye when those suffering are far away. Easier to justify our behaviour when we categorise “them” as different from “us”. I know. Because I do it all the time.

It is only when I read words like these – “Admit it. You love cheap clothes. And you don’t care about child labour” – that I stop for a moment and think, “Yes. You are right.”

And I don’t want to be that person, even if it means never shopping in GAP again. 

 

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Power is expensive, but words are free

13 Feb

This is a really interesting article about how Cameron and the Conservatives are flailing. Interesting because it’s written by Tim Montgomerie, the man behind the Conservative Home website, whose strap-line is “the home of conservatism”. To spell it out then, if the editor of your most important pro-party political blog criticises you in a national newspaper, you are probably in trouble.

Where did the Tory party go wrong? Some would say they should never have been allowed to govern.

I, for one, did vote for them – inspired two years ago by their commitment to social justice, to the long-awaited political transformation this country needed, inspired by the new message and new faces bringing this message.

Last year, I spent quite a lot of time writing for, and working closely with, someone who is now one of the PM’s special advisers. I was “in there” for a while, or at least vicariously, and I loved it. I ended up writing this article for the Guardian in the wake of the riots, and for a while I felt close to the action. That all changed when I changed jobs a few months ago. And now, in retrospect, I am really, really glad.

Really glad I no longer have to defend ideals like the “Big Society” (I never understood what it meant – and I spent a month writing a policy paper about it!). Really glad I can distance myself from a party that is, I believe, failing – failing to do what it said it would do, failing to listen to the ordinary man and woman, failing to lead our country forward at a time of great economic instability.

For a while now, I’ve been pondering a similar thought to Tim Montgomerie  – how can people who have always known abundance ever truly understand poverty and need? How can the rich (and I mean truly rich) ever get what it is to go without, to make heart-breaking decisions and see your children suffering as a result – simply because you don’t have enough money? How far can human empathy spread?

The thing about poverty is – however compassionate and kind-hearted you might be, you can never truly understand the pain that poverty brings until you experience it yourself. The sleepness nights. The constant worry and anxiety, 24 hours a day hovering over you. The tension it brings into your relationships. The exclusion zone it creates as you watch your friends go out/buy new shoes/grab another coffee/buy healthy food for their children and know that you cannot join in.Poverty divides and isolates. It rarely unites.

Our leaders have failed to understand. If they understood surely they would not be pushing through these deeply unpopular changes to the NHS and our welfare system. Surely they would not be allowing the judiciary to lock up young people involved in riots – impressionable teenagers whose main crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Surely they would not be continuously pushing up the cost of public transport as the service received continues to decline. We have been failed. I feel duped. And it makes me angry. Angry because it feels like we – the general public – are not being listened to.

Yet words are free. I love words. I love it when words are conjoined and sculpted together in ways that give voice to those without power. It does not cost money to use our words to challenge those in power – whether here in the UK, or amongst those on the front-line of opposition in Syria, Russia or Zimbabwe, or globally amongst those campaigning to end human trafficking and the round up of kids living on the streets.

How will you use your voice today? And tomorrow? Let’s no longer allow the powerful – wherever we are in the world – to think they know what is best for those fighting to survive in the face of injustice, poverty and human greed.

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