Recently I took this quiz that determines how many slaves work for me (here). I live in a student flat, do not use the heater, nor own a car. My weekly groceries list is not lavish, mostly fruits and vegetables, lots of rice and some meat. I’m not a technophile, my Ipod and phone are more than three years old. Yet the quiz said that 43 slaves work for me. That’s right, fourty-three people whose labour goes unpaid.
I’m making the assumption here that most of my ‘slaves’ are producing clothes and leather goods. I admit I own a fairly large amount of them, especially the latter, considering that I have an obsession with leather, be it shoes, bags or clothing. Every freaking season I pine and whine for Rick Owens’s latest leather jackets.
While I’m aware that my consumption level is not exactly desirable for said slaves, what’s scary is that I’m most likely just another average consumer. Most people are probably consuming at the same rate or much more, albeit on different items, yet they are blissfully unaware of the forced labour that goes into making the latest electronic gadgets or sequinned tops. Case in point, a classmate of mine in an ethics class thinks that people in third world countries have a choice not to work under harsh labour conditions. Okay so he’s a ‘special’ case, but irresponsible capitalism has successfully hidden the truth and what consumers can’t see, they are mostly not going to give a damn about it. How many of us have bought more food than we can consume, only to discard it without so much as a second glance two weeks later because we ‘forgot’ about it? Even basic food items such as wheat and fish may have been produced under forced labour.
Changing my shopping habit has been a slow progress. Fashion is after all an industry that depends on obsolescence (“That is so last year”), so every season brings forth another wave of temptation. And then there’s the problem of coveting the proverbial neighbour’s possessions. I spot something that looks amazing on a blogger, and a few seconds later I find myself on ebay/polyvore searching for something similar.
It’s difficult to be ethical because as consumers we have been mollycoddled by sellers who provide convenience at the expense of our conscience. More often than not, being ethical is costly in terms of resources and time since we have to do our own digging, from the supply chain all the way to the racks. I don’t have a solution to chase the elephant out of the room, but I think consuming less would be a good start.