Friday, March 25, 2005

Does Ethical Consumerism have Mass Appeal?

According to Fair-trade figures, UK shoppers spent GBP140 million on goods bearing the Fair-trade logo last year. Coffee appears to be the best seller, with Fair-trade beans being used in many high street cafes, including Starbucks [SBUX], Costa Coffee and Pret a Manger. Does this mean that consumers indicating a willingness to pay for such goods. It certainly suggests evidence that ethical consumerism can generate mass-market appeal, something that the Consumer and Packaged Goods (CPG) industry can no longer ignore.

More than 800 Fair-trade retail and catering products are currently available in the UK, considerably more than approx 150 such products available in 2003. The fair-trade logo certainly helps to establish a brand that people can become familiar with. It is important to note that although Fair-trade sales have tended to appeal to more affluent consumers, there is a need to convince mass-market consumers to pay for its end goal benefits.

Interconnected ethical concerns affecting what we eat and our personal care continue to receive high profile press coverage.

There are also deeper issues, for example, are consumers willing to boycott products on ethical issues? Recent statistics show that 68% of consumers in the US and Europe have done so.

The mid 1980s Bhopal accident ranks as the world's worst industrial disaster, with over 3,400 fatalities and at least 50,000 permanently injured among its victims. There has been no meaningful relief or justice for the victims. In fact, the condition of the surviving victims remains grave. The corporation began selling off assets soon after the accident, presumably to limit its financial liability in case litigation ran against its interests. Chief among these sales were the consumer product and agricultural divisions, perhaps due to their possible use as boycott targets by victim support groups.

An interesting site to visit if you are interested in learning more about corporate 'affairs' is: This site contains links to companies that we should watch in terms of their ethical behaviour, track record and corporate responsibility. The range of issues is diverse and the points raised will touch the consensuses of many readers in different ways. Ultimately understanding who to support or side with is your choice, based on your own experiences and personal belief system. One thing is for sure, multi-nationals have a part to play in their responsibilities to basic health, safety and need to reduce the sin of greed.

Please follow the suggested tips for ethical shopping & activities:

* When out shopping opt for using local shops, thus avoiding generating unnecessary pollution.
* Find wholefood shops - Increasingly, they are stocking fair trade products
* Fair trade - Find books that advise you on fair trade goods and their associated High Street availability.
* Avoid beauty products tested on animals
* Try Organic produce, free of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, that benefit the workforce, the consumer and the environment.
* Use Non-genetically altered food
* Consider Ethical money – Find banks that offer a truly ethical stance, for example : the co-op.
* Understand the importance of recycling & redeploying second hand items - Recycled and second hand products save precious resources and reduce pressure on landfill sites.
* When using wood Products look for the FSC logo - Many timber products reach the UK having originated from unsustainably managed forests. The Forest Stewardship Council operates an independent verification of sustainable timber and paper products. Please look out for the FSC logo.

Remember, at the end of the day all responsible behaviour starts with us.

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Friday, March 18, 2005

Planet Genocide

Over the weekend, I went to see Hotel Rwanda. It educates us of a time of genocide in Africa, as recently as 1994. It is also unfortunate that if we look back over the last hundred years it is shocking to discover and recollect what evil humankind is capable of. For example:

Armenians in Turkey: 1915-1918 - 1,500,000 Deaths
2 million Armenians living in Turkey were eliminated from their historic homeland through forced deportations and massacres

Soviet’s forced famine 1932-1933 - 7,000,000 Deaths
A Soviet Union leader, facilitated famine in the Ukraine - to destroy the people there seeking independence. This resulted in an estimated 7,000,000 persons perishing in this farming area, known as the breadbasket of Europe.

Rape of Nanking: 1937-1938 - 300,000 Deaths
In December of 1937, the Japanese Imperial Army marched into China's capital city of Nanking and proceeded to murder 300,000 out of 600,000 civilians and soldiers in the city.

Nazi Holocaust: 1938-1945 - 6,000,000 Deaths
Starting with a boycott of Jewish shops, it ended in the creation of many horrific gas chambers. Auschwitz was just one of the many death camps.

Pol Pot in Cambodia: 1975-1979 - 2,000,000 Deaths
An attempt by Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot to form a Communist peasant farming society resulted in the deaths of 25 percent of the country's population from starvation, overwork and executions.

Anti-Sikh riots in India: 1984 – 20,000+ deaths + countless missing
Post the assignation of Indira Gandhi in 1984, a policy of no-rule for days resulted in what many describe as co-ordinated anti-communal violence against the Sikh population in New Delhi and many other Indian cities.

Bosnia-Herzegovina: 1992-1995 - 200,000 Deaths
In the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, conflict between the three main ethnic groups, the Serbs, Croats, and Muslims, resulted in genocide committed by the Serbs against the Muslims in Bosnia.
Rwanda: 1994 - 800,000 DeathsBeginning on April 6, 1994, and for the next hundred days, up to 800,000 Tutsis were killed by Hutu militia using clubs and machetes, with as many as 10,000 killed each day.

Hotel Rwanda is certainly a moving story and recollects the efforts of Paul Rusesabagina, at the time. Beginning on April 7, hundreds of people-most of them Tutsi or Hutu threatened by Hutu Power supporters took shelter at the Mille Collines, a luxury hotel in central Kigali. Paul and his staff worked hard to protect those that took refuse at the hotel once the world had abandoned Rwanda.I wondered at the end of the film what we can do to help develop preventative strategies, especially in an era where misunderstanding regarding race, ethnicity and cultural diversity appears to be on the rise. It is almost as if paranoia is invading the roots of keeping our core civil liberties in place. Interestingly, a curriculum on genocide has begun to appear in school systems across Canada. Universally, there is a need to develop a sense of human rights consciousness to ensure that we never again bare witness to crimes against humanity. Perhaps there is room for including such themes in national curriculum syllabuses.

Education of past mistakes can certainly open our eyes. However, more needs to be done to ensure that we are one world and should never abandon each other. Scarily, the deaths in Rwanda only took place over the last decade. Darkness is around the corner, it is up to us to stay in the light of day and ensure that we are not manipulated towards any evil.

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Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Let it Flow...

I remember what someone once said to me, ‘There’s a book in all of us’. I wonder if that person should really have meant that each one of us is story in our own right’.I believe that train journey’s can be an inspiration, as long as one stays focused on steady thought. I remember one journey in particular. It was the middle of August 2003, and I was travelling on the 08:03 train from Weybridge to Waterloo. That summer was memorable too as I personally can’t remember a time in London when the sun shone everyday for almost 50 days. Temperatures regularly hit 80degree F with some days soaring to over 90 degreesF.

That year the trains were different too - For some reason for the last 6months older, crankier and slower trains known as slam-door trains were in circulation. Interestingly, some cabins had been marked as First Class but during peak hours all cabins were covered by the same rating and ticket cost. Half way on our journey to London Waterloo, a couple of elderly ladies, maybe in their Golden years, whatever that means, joined our cabin. The cabin’s configuration was set-up with six seats with a set of 3 seats facing each other. I sat facing the direction of travel whereas the ladies sat opposite. On route I tried to focus on the book I was reading, I’d recently been introduced to John Grisham so I was keen to get to the end of the chapter. Their chatter was self indulgent, and one could here the occasional words that may give away the associated topic area. Words such as ‘Vicar…Sunday…Cooking…Meeting’ allowed the unfocused and subconcious listener to follow their topic of discussion. Later during their discussion, their conversation moved to, ‘Publisher… Reviewer… Signing…’ and the phrase ‘My latest book’ emerged.

Eventually one of the ladies left the cabin at Vauxhall, one stop before London Waterloo. I then toyed with the idea of asking and finding out if the remaining lady was a famous writer or personality. My heart raced with my mind urging me to open my mouth and ask an introductory exploratory question. After a few seconds I plucked up enough courage to say, ‘I hope you don’t mind me asking, but are you an author?’ I was confident that she’d heard me but I received no acknowledgement. Now this may have had some thing to do with either the mirrored sunglasses I was wearing or her shock that someone had asked her something so personal. It may have been a simpler issue, i.e: that the sound of the rattling train was so loud that my question had been ‘sounded out’. My belief was the prior.

I decided to ask her the same question again, this time she responded with, ‘Oh! Are you talking to me. Sorry what did you say’, again, I repeated my question. She then sprung into life declaring, ‘Actually I do write books, some short stories but mainly non-fiction?’ I proudly declared, ‘Actually I’m a part-time writer, but I’m finding it hard to balance everyday work with productivity’. The aim of the statement was to gain an insight from her about how she managed. I followed up my point by saying, ‘I’ve read Creative writing by Diane Doubtfire and she appears to be insistent that one needs structure.’ The authoress then responded and said, ‘If you want to write, get some quiet time and just let if flow’.

A simple message emerged. If we have something to say, wish to make a change or communicate to each other, other than by voice, then writing is a form of expression that we must not forget. Whether it is a petition or an expression of hope for highlighting injustice or struggle, writing can be a way of raising debate. Change can be facilitated but not at the expense of ego. In the future ‘’Blogs’ will be a big influence. A blog is an online: personal diary, daily pulpit, collaborative space, political soapbox, breaking news outlet, collection of links, your own private thoughts or memos to the world. Over the last few years blogs have reshaped the web, impacted politics, shaken up journalism, and enabled millions of people to have a voice and connect with others. Watch-out for blogs coming soon to a website near you. You maybe convinced to author your own one day.

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