Fair Trade and Millennials

I came across this article today, and was intrigued. It quotes this NPR piece from earlier this week, which (full disclosure) discusses the findings of a Hersheys-funded survey.

In essence, millennials (the generation born between 1980 and 1996) don’t practice what they preach when it comes to ethical consumption. This is interesting for many reasons, not least of all because of the social media onslaught we’re responsible for, talking about the importance of buying goods that are handmade, organic, ethical, eco-friendly, recycled, etc etc. As it turns out, we may care more about being seen to talk about it than actually putting all that concern into action.

Let me add here, this isn’t altogether surprising. I care deeply about the story behind the goods I consume, and it bothers me that our electronics still can’t be sourced ethically, without harm to or loss of life. But I can’t afford to put that care into all aspects of my life, either because of practicality – no one makes ethical computers – price, or availability. So I’m typing this on a MacBook, despite the fact Apple has been accused of exploiting child and bonded labour in their Asian factories. They’re working on it, but progress is slow.  

In a survey of participants ages 18 to 35, millennials reported caring about ethical issues like environmental sustainability and social responsibility in chocolate production. But when choosing chocolate privately, these self-proclaimed ethical shoppers were all chocolate bark and no bite. (Sorry.) Most showed little preference for labels advertising ethical sourcing and instead preferred labels with ingredients they recognized — items like “chocolate” and “butter,” rather than “tertiary butylhydroquinone.”

We can’t see the survey itself, so we can’t see the wording, but let’s not presume to think ours is the only generation that’s ever cared about environmental sustainability and social responsibility. If you believe in climate change and know that we are responsible for most of the increases in greenhouse gases in recent decades, and that our thirst for faster and cheaper goods has led to a significant drain on the livelihoods of other humans, it’s only natural you’ll want to turn to goods that try to counteract that.

(Tertiart butylhydroquinone, by the way, is a preservative used with unsaturated vegetable oil and animal fat. Thank you, Wiki.)

Young hypothesized that millennials also set aside ethical concerns when choosing to indulge, despite a reputation in the food industry for caring about responsibly sourced food.

With funding from The Hershey Co., Young set out to test his hunch. First, the researchers conducted eight focus groups, each consisting of eight to 10 millennials. They found that younger millennials ages 18 to 20 expressed little concern about anything other than taste in their chocolate preferences. But older millennials expressed concern about whether chocolate was organic, fair trade, GMO-free and environmentally sustainable.

I’m guessing the older millennials are more likely to be those who absorb global news more often, read more, travel more, and likely also work in the countries producing the goods we consume. Information is the first of many steps to being able to do something about a situation you find oppressive, so this again is no surprise. I’m not discriminating against these high school/university groups either. I remember what I was like at that age. In between essay deadlines, parties, MUN meetings and just enjoying being young, how many of us set aside the time to go into the backstory of all the goods we consumed, how they were produced and the rights of those who made them?

Then the researchers presented another group of 214 millennials with unbranded, unpriced labels varying in traits — such as ingredients used, fat content, and ethical endorsement (for example, a label indicating Rainforest Alliance certification). Each millennial was asked to choose between side-by-side label comparisons of varying chocolate products — roughly 400 times. Most participants consistently paid attention to whether or not they could pronounce the ingredients in a bar, but only a small, socially conscious group — representing 14 percent of participants — showed strong preference for ethical labels.

The findings “confirmed what I thought,” says corporate sustainability specialist Sandra Rousseau from the University of Leuven, Belgium, who was not involved in the research. She cautions that the study disproportionately sampled college students but says the findings make sense. “You interview young people, and they tend to be quite aware of social issues and environmental issues. But if you push a bit harder, it’s a lot of talk, but not always action.”

That’s not to say that millennials are secretly truffle-munching, Nietzsche-reading nihilists.

Young says millennials are likely more concerned about ethics when buying goods that aren’t as indulgent as chocolate. Millennials still care more, he says, about ethical food production than older generations, who grew up before many of these issues were mainstream concerns.

Time to also remind ourselves that these younger groups are less likely to be employed full-time (especially in the samples the survey used, in the US), which makes their disposable income that much smaller than people my age, who are more likely to have a full-time job, and who can afford to implement their philosophy in their everyday lives.

This is by no means a defense of my generation, or a condemnation. I firmly believe that anything anyone does to consider the sources of our consumption, or to even think about why we buy certain things from certain companies or countries, is a step forward and more progress than we were making 30-40 years ago.

We can’t all afford to buy organic coffee, but if yours is drunk at home and not out of a disposable cup, that’s one less plastic-coated paper cup that will end up in the throat of a sea turtle.

Growing your own herbs at home cuts down on the carbon footprint of importing them from distant countries, who may not pay their farmers adequately, transported in climate-controlled freights.

Buying second-hand or vintage clothes can help reduce our dependency on sweat-shop labour.

See what I mean? It’s not all about going to the organic aisle, or being seen to do something. Who knows what these younger millennials do in their non chocolate-eating time to care about other people, or the planet?

There is a very important fact to consider here. The first Fairtrade coffee landed on supermarket shelves over 30 years ago (in the Netherlands via Mexico) – a number that nicely fits in with the millennial generation (defined as people born 1980-1996).

This means that for millennials, the concept of fair trade has been on the radar their entire lives. They came of age with the organic and local movement. Ethical buying is not an add-on, it’s not a marketing ploy, it’s an expectation.  And for many of them, the travails of coffee farmers have been well-documented.

What’s important to note is that this study shows that the millennial generation cares more than others about the social and environmental implications of our consumption. You could argue that caring alone isn’t going to do anything, but I’d say it’s enough.

Young university students who care grow up to become young, informed people who have the power to do something. I’d always rather err on the side of optimism here, rather than dismissiveness. Every generation looks down on the one following, and I’m probably more likely than most my age to do this; but let’s not ignore the potential of awareness and information-sharing to translate into more responsible decisions.

 

Cork-Board Tutorial

I’ve been collecting corks for a few years and have amassed a pretty impressive collection. Wine is nice, I make no apologies.

I use them to make cork-bards. They’re a great way to recycle corks, which have an unusually large carbon footprint owing to their disposal, rather than production. The tree yields a harvest every nine years, and originates in Portugal – that’s an incredible dependence on one natural source.

There are many alternatives around – from plastic to cork substitutes, as well as wine makers now opting for screw-tops. I have to admit to some snobbery here; I do look down on screw-top wine as inferior and plebby. I know that’s shallow and terrible but there it is.

Since cork is quite absorbent, and those in good bottles of wine have labels, pictures and country of origin stamped onto it, making a cork-board is a great way to reuse your old corks as well as make something functional (and pretty!).

Plus, everyone can see exactly how much wine you consume. Which is both good and bad! It’s also a fun souvenir of a trip – or many trips – you’ve taken and all the booze you’ve enjoyed with friends. I always ask restaurants I go to if I could have the cork from the bottles we drink, since they would otherwise end up in the regular bin, and there goes all that energy generated in making it.

All you need is a sharp craft knife, strong glue, a frame you like and enough corks to fit half the frame.

There are plenty of great antique markets here, and my neighbourhood in Budapest has a lot of art galleries. I’ve got a good selection of pretty frames I could use, and I got this ugly drawing of an ugly Hungarian, but with a frame I liked. It’s roughly A4-sized, and I needed about two handfuls of wine corks. I won’t tell you how long it took me to collect these, because you will judge me.

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The hardest part is cutting the corks, so I find that soaking them in a large bowl of water for at least half an hour makes that a lot easier.
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Once that’s done, use an old chopping board or place-mat to carefully cut the corks in half lengthwise. Slow and precise cuts with the craft knife make sure that the cuts are straight, and also keep your fingers safe.

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Arrange the corks on your board, and figure out how you’d like to place them. This was my initial placement, but as you can see there are too many labelled corks next to each other, so I wanted to space those out – and vary the patters of the labels too. In the middle, I’ve got two columns of sparking  wine corks. These were from my Galentine’s Day brunch.

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The corks will need to dry on order for them to stick, so once you’ve got an arrangement you like, just turn them cut side up and leave them to dry on a windowsill for a bit. Once they’re dry, squeeze the glue in a zigzag pattern along the middle and stick in place.

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Since the corks are different sizes, you’ll have a gap at the top of your columns. I just cut a blank cork widthways so that it would fit these gaps, and stuck them to the tops of these columns. If you want to make it look a little neater, you could of course fill the gaps anywhere you like.

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And that’s it! Leave it to dry overnight then hang it up and enjoy 🙂

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Guest Post: What Ethical Consumerism means to me

I’m thrilled to share my guest blog for ‘Hands Producing Hope’ on what ethical consumerism means to me, resources and ideas for thinking about our lifestyles in a more equitable way. I would love to hear your thoughts! ‘Hands Producing Hope’ is a great company which not only works with artisans to make beautiful products ethically, but also actively work to counter the poor conditions their artisans live in, to live healthy and full lives. Their aim is to bring about change in the lives of their producers not only through the sale of their products, but also through educating us as consumers about the need to make more ethical purchases and activate others to do the same.

They go beyond this responsibility to also provide social protection to their workers, some of whom have been rescued from being sex workers against their will. The program focusses on marginalised individuals, providing education to their children – and sometimes to the artisans themselves – and develop skills in the community which can be used in other trades, providing a sustainable livelihood.  Have a look at their incredible website and beautiful items! Without further ado, here’s my post:

It might sound glib, but one of the most powerful things we can do as humans is to decide how we want our world to look – whether that’s by voting, picketing, raising awareness, joining an NGO, etc – and one of the most interesting ways to do this is to choose how you spend your money and what you spend it on. There’s nothing particularly new about ethical or sustainable living, but what I love to see is the huge number of creative ways we can live with respect for others and our planet.

There is nothing special or unique about me – no,  I’m not fishing for compliments! I am an ordinary person with a normal life and income. I am not trying to preach about how to be a better consumer, because I’m still navigating through that myself. I’m in no real position to tell you how or what to buy, but I can share some ideas of where I look and how I started thinking my consumption. We are all capable of making ethical consumption choices – it’s not just for the fabulously wealthy, or for the hemp sandal-wearing, dreadlocked hippy. I’m wearing second-hand clothes as I type this and my tea comes from an organic plantation in southern India. But I’m writing on an Apple MacBook – don’t even get me started on their carbon footprint. It’s all a balancing act.

It’s important to stop and really think about whether you need the thing you’re lusting after (even if it’s the most beautiful scarf in the world). If you do, consider getting it second-hand, or repurpose an object for something else – I use chopsticks from takeaways as reed diffusers around the house – which may not directly benefit another person, but it reduces your carbon footprint and is one less set of items we need our planet’s finite set of resources to make.

If it has to be new, try thinking about who would have made it and under what conditions. If it’s likely to be mass produced in a factory by someone earning less than or just about minimum wage, I always have to think about whether it’s really necessary. For some items, like smartphones, it really can’t be helped. (There is a Fairphone, but the market is quite small and the phone itself is rather expensive – plus reviews are mixed.)

I’m also conscious of the cost of making a complete lifestyle change by buying solely Fair Trade-certified produce, or entirely handmade goods. I often tell people that we don’t need to completely envelop ourselves in a cocoon of ethically-produced goods, but it is important to try to make small changes, since they inevitably lead to bigger ones.

Simply switching to Fair Trade-certified coffee, or buying vegetables from a farmers market (or better yet, growing your own), can lead to larger leaps of changing the way we consume.

You can buy furniture from Ikea, but if the throw you use while watching TV was handmade for example, that’s fantastic – and the company you buy the throw from might have other ideas for your home that you like, so you slowly build up this habit of label- and background-checking.

I’ve learned that ethical living doesn’t mean you have to buy a lot and it doesn’t mean you have to surround yourself with ethical products either. Reducing consumption is often one of the best ways to start. You can live ethically by composting your food, growing your own herbs, recycling plastic bottles to make greenhouses, making some of your own furniture and breathing new life into everyday objects. Ethical living means not only keeping the needs of other people in mind, it also means living with respect for the planet which gives us so much already, while also forcing us to think honestly about our own needs. Look around you now and think honestly about what you could not live without – then think about creative or ethical ways you could have bought those things. I really like this flow chart:

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Since I spent some of my childhood in India, I have seen what poverty looks like and what it can do, to children my age, their families and the society around them. Seeing girls your own age drinking water from a puddle on the street, in tattered clothes, playing mother to their younger siblings instead of enjoying childhood the way I was able to, is not an easy image to shift. My own family was always aware of this imbalance and like many around us, we did what we could. My first experience of an ‘ethical business’ as such is an incredible shop called Fabindia, where my mother got many of her clothes. Fabindia use traditional methods to make their beautiful clothes, often using natural dyes, and also contribute financially to the communities they support.

There are plenty of documentaries, news stories and books about the cost of mass production on people – on children, vulnerable groups like the extreme poor, or even the working classes in seemingly far-away countries.

With the collapse of Rana Plaza in Dhaka, many people started asking serious questions about where our clothes come from and why we need to constantly buy from the same companies known for exploiting sweatshop labour.

A great deal of much-needed publicity went to ethical companies like People Tree out of this horrible disaster. I would recommend reading some of these books or reports and watching some of the incredible documentaries available, since they will often have tips and ideas for being an ethical consumer without needing to break the bank or significantly alter your way of shopping or thinking. If you are a blogger, join this incredible Facebook group to share resources and information.

It’s because of our position as consumers with money, access to information and resources, that we have to cast this sort of vote for a more equitable future. Think about it this way – who else is going to do it? We shouldn’t ignore this moral requirement. We enjoy the lifestyles we do because someone else has worked around the clock in abysmal conditions to mine tungsten, copper and other minerals for our iPhones. Our responsibility to other people and to our planet extends beyond the money we pay for these goods. We need to go beyond that and think deeper about our power as consumers. Even if you don’t agree with the moral imperative of giving back when we take so much, we need to consider the effect of our cheap, exploitative lifestyles on the planet – it just isn’t sustainable.

But it isn’t all dismal news – there is a lot we can still do to correct the mistakes of this exploitation. I love how creative this journey has allowed me to become with regards to my lifestyle choices. Social media makes it so much easier. I started my blog in 2008, which introduced me to the marvelous wonderland of Pinterest, Etsy and Ravelry – and let’s not forget the power of a Facebook group to gather like-minded people. Even in Budapest, there are second-hand furniture groups, from which I got six hand-painted silk pillows for a steal, and met a fascinating Croatian woman.

We have recently moved into a much larger flat so I’m going a little Pinterest-mad with redecoration ideas – some of which can be bought and some of which are going to be hobby-work challenges for both of us. I stumbled upon a tutorial to make pillow covers and even though I’ve never come close to making one before, I found a fantastic fabric shop in Barcelona, got hypnotised by the owner’s stories of the hand-weavers and dyers they work with and now there’s a pile of fabric waiting to be turned into something beautiful. How exciting is that?!DSC_0092

So get creative – if you think you could start making some of the homewares you covet from Anthropologie, there is a wealth of information on the internet so just jump in and see how it goes. Blogs like this, and companies like Hands Producing Hope, are a great resource for starting this journey – and as you read and learn more, new and creative ways to live more responsibly, ethically and sustainably will come to you. Tap into social media networks too – we are all interested in this stuff and enjoy helping each other, so I hope to see you online!

About Sanjukta: 

 

Sanjukta was born in India and grew up in Europe and the UK. She has been involved in political activism since her teenage years and is passionate about fostering a global culture of respect for each other and our planet. She has been blogging since she was an angry undergrad and would love to connect via Pinterest, Etsy or Instagram!

Around-The-World Skirt

Disclaimer: I have never made a skirt before. I’ve used a sewing machine a couple of times to customise jeans, tops and dresses, sketching out ideas for how I want to add fabric, beads or paint on them. I have never looked at a pattern and made a piece of clothing from scratch. Time will tell if I’ve inherited any talent from my mother and my grandmother on this, I guess!

I’ve been wanting to make a skirt of this type since I was about 14, so I figured what better time than now to do this, especially now I’ve got more than a year?

Some ideas for patterns that I’ve been researching

It will be made with fabrics from around the world, but I don’t want to use anything mass-produced or cheaply available. Wherever possible, I want to use handmade, hand-spun, hand-dyed, environmentally-conscious and/or ethical fabric.

If this isn’t available, I will also be using scrap fabrics since that is recycled; but I’ll try to make sure that even these scraps contain some other ethical dimension.

I don’t want to buy bolts of fabric and if it’s avoidable, I don’t want to buy fat quarters since that creates more waste. However, I’m having so much fun thinking of what to do with them, I don’t think even a square inch will go unused!

I realise this has made the whole thing a lot more difficult for myself, but I think the skirt – and the process of making it – will be all the better for it.

Some ideas for patterns

I’ve been collecting these fabrics for some months, so wanted to share the incredible people and companies who make and sell these gorgeous items. I’m going to dedicate a whole category on WordPress to it, because I want to showcase each country or producer.

The fabrics will come from the countries I’ve lived in, visited or want to live in (So basically, it’s from virtually every country in the world! I said I wasn’t going to make it easy…)

I’ve found the process difficult and challenging at times, especially when I write to people and it turns out their materials are actually made in a factory in China. It’s also been challenging finding people willing to ship to Hungary, and to find materials from all the countries I want to get them – many are either in or next to war zones, have export bans on such things, or there simply aren’t websites dedicated to them. It’s not easy, but if the skirt gets made and looks awesome, how amazing will that be?!

I was lucky enough to visit the US in December, for work and I combined it with a few weekends with family. My patient and lovely cousin allowed me to order all manner of stuff and keep it in her room for about a month before I showed up! Have I mentioned I’m a little obsessive organised?

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Time will tell if this is going to be the biggest disaster of my life, or a triumphant success. Watch this space.

Profile: Home On Earth

Home on Earth is an incredible company with stylish products, combining fair trade practices with sustainable design to showcase how a product can be both good for the environment and treat the people who made it with dignity. Here’s a bit about their philosophy, taken from their website:

Our products combine sustainability and Nordic design, with its quality and elegance – without wasting resources along the production process. Home on Earth uses almost exclusively natural materials such as bamboo, wool, coconut, mango, hemp and cotton.

The use of reused and recyclable materials, along with the energy efficiency concept are key factors when we think about our new designs and select new products.

By designing most of our products and working directly with the producers, we can focus on improving working conditions and make production processes more human.

Thus, we can ensure a fair wage system while we generate more equitable labour relations. Home on Earth is synonymous with creativity, environmental awareness and well-being.

I’ve been to Barcelona a few times for work and stumbled across one of their shops off La Rambla, in the centre of town, with my sister-in-law, earlier this month. It’s a lovely and welcoming space, with staff who are eager to genuinely help and talk about the products, and even though they’re salespeople who likely work on commission, I wasn’t made to feel like a walking wallet. They all know about the products, where they come from and who has made them.

I met one of the owners Mette, during my first visit. She and her husband Stefan set up the company in 1998 to reflect their love of nature, culture and travel. She has a passion for design and shows this off through some beautiful items in the shop like these candle holders, made out of cassia bark. When candles are placed inside, not only is the effect beautiful, but the smell of cassia bark really does come across.

 

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What do you think? There’s plenty of space inside to place a tea-light from IKEA and other spices as well, so I think once the smell starts to get weak, I might add whole spices inside, to allow the heat from the candles to perfume the area around it.

DIY – Nexus Cover using Sari Ribbon Fabric

Spring is finally here and I took this chance to start a project I’ve been meaning to get to for a while – making a case for my Google Nexus tablet, a Christmas present from my truly excellent other half, Andrew. I’m pretty impressed with how it turned out and thought I’d share it with you!

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I’ve had a lot of sari ribbon kicking around, which I bought from Julie’s Etsy shop. I wanted to use strips of this beautiful fabric in my cover since not only does it look amazing, but I just love the philosophy behind it.

Sari ribbon is made by tying together the scraps of silk used to make saris. Here’s what Julie has to say about where the fabric comes from:

My yarns are produced by women’s co-operatives in India. I buy this yarn and fibre, which includes sari silk ribbon, sari silk yarn and banana yarn, directly from these women and and have been doing so for years and years where I now have an excellent relationship directly with these cottage industries. I still marvel at the peerless quality and enchantment of these yarns years on. I am now organic nettle and organic hemp yarn from Nepal along with hand-spun cottons and linens and other Indian silk products including handwoven pure silk scarves and shawls for you to dye yourself.

 

I wanted it to be colourful and unique but also to be really personal and reflect my philosophy of creating as little waste as possible, trying to do right by our planet and seeking out ethical products. I love the fact that I can now read books about poverty reduction for my course from a case made out of such materials!

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The whole thing took me about a day to make, bearing in mind that certain parts needed to dry overnight and the fact that I don’t have a sewing machine. I’m sure with practice I can do this a lot faster and more efficiently!

So what do you think?

I’ve been mulling over starting an Etsy shop to sell things I make using materials like this, so let me know what you think and whether you would be interested in a cover like this for your tablet or Kindle.

I’ve also made a Nexus case for Andrew using spare parts of leather I’d love to make more of these and learn about different methods of using recycled or environmentally-friendly products so do let me know what you think – don’t spare my feelings!

Thanks 🙂