Buy Less But Better Things
To bear the weight of the world on our shoulder is not an option. One may not find happiness in guilt. Although, once in a while, a tragedy strikes us in a way that we can't flee; sometimes, we can't help but to tell ourselves: " Did I play a role in this?"
That's exactly what happened for the western world on November 2012 when the Tazreen Fashions Factory in Bangladesh burnt down and took the life on hundreds of people with it. Same thing five months later, when the Rana Plaza collapsed and brought the lives of so many with it. When we learned the news and understood that these sweatshops had been making clothes for some of the biggest and most successful companies in the world, many of us had to wonder if we were somehow responsible for this?
Iris Marion Young, a brilliant American philosopher, has worked a big part of her life in order to help us shed some light on these kinds of questions. In her famous article Responsibility and global justice: A social connection model, Young developed a comprehension of responsibility that could be applied precisely to the phenomenon of sweatshops. According to her,
"[...] all agents who contributed by their actions to the structural processes that produce injustice have responsibilities to work to remedy these injustices."
That means that it could no longer be said that only the direct individuals sharing liability to a certain event, the owner of sweatshop factories for example, could be considered responsible for that event. Anybody taking actions in the course of social structures that generate injustice have to be seen as making these unjust situations possible and be contributing to maintaining them. In the context of our global economy, we have to face the fact, says Young, that
"[...] some social structural processes have global reach."
What does it mean for us then? Well, first of all, we have to acknowledge that our behaviors as consumers have a large impact on modeling these structures in question. A good example is the phenomenon of fast fashion and how it has contributed for a large part to establish the actual structure and practices of the clothing industry. Wanting to be able to afford the latest trends pushes customers to be constantly looking for cheaper garments in order to be able to buy more and more often. That behavior translates in an economical model where producers are entailed in a race to the bottom where the lowest price wins, and that obviously means the lowest production costs at any human or ecological cost. Same goes for about all of our consumer goods: we change our cell phone every year, we drink bottled water and coffee in single-use cups, we have so many shoes we never wear, and all that food that goes straight to the garbage… Most of the objects we get to use every day are meant to be disposable and designed in ways that do not reflect on the impact they have on a global reach.
Right here we can start to conceive how we can have an effect on these kind of practices. As consumers, we have to refuse to participate to that kind of economical model and seek for "better products". Better product must mean first of all of better quality. For example, instead of buying disposable pieces of clothing at ridiculously low costs and wear them a handful of times, we should be able to invest in well made, long lasting items that won't demand drastic measures for making their production profitable. Buying better products then must also mean to care for the condition of production and all it implies:
Where have they been made?
Was the production sustainable?
Were the working conditions acceptable?
So many initiatives are now available to those caring to take responsibility in this sense and more appear every day. Emma Watson's engagement to promote sustainable fashion on the red carpet or H&M commitments toward sustainability are relevant examples on how these companies and consumer behaviors are getting increasingly looked for. And for those who worry that these kinds of practices could be out of their budget, we have to remember that it is a well-known fact that buying better quality products will translate on savings on the long run. Instead of having a wardrobe full of shirts that we never really wear, we can have fewer items of better quality that we also like better. And by these means, we can try participating in more ethical social processes and structures. That logic can then be applied to most aspects of our lives and to all of our consumer goods and habits. To buy less, but better things, because to live in a better world also means to live a better life.