Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Plastic charity wristands

Now there's a concept worth dying for. Or was it from?Got slightly wound up about the above article (follow link) on the charity bracelet phenomenon that is taking the (western) world by storm, with the things being sold on e-bay for twice or three times the original price. There are several issues here, not the least being that not all the money goes to the charity. It can be as little as one third of the original purchase price, somewhere around 33 pence, in the UK. Secondly, the bracelets are available for multiple charities in different colours and they seem to have evolved from the 'friendship' bracelet idea. In short, they are a fashion statement for students, teenagers and trendies. The practicality of the thing is not an issue in my mind, it is a good idea and the charities are cashing in on it: if not to the full extent, it is still income.

The thing that seems to have caught the criticism of the Guardian (among others who will undoubtedly come along at some stage) is that the bracelets are actually being manufactured in sweatshops in China. Ironically (so it would seem) the company involved in this so called scandal, in fact produces bracelets for the Make Poverty History campaign. The Guardian, among others, would have us believe that it is scandalous for a company dedicated to ending poverty to actually use cheap labour working in terrible conditions. I don't know the campaign or it's policies for co-operation (ethical trading initiative) so I will reserve comment for the time being, but what I will say that having actually visited China and having seen how people chose to live and work (yes there are people with jobs and money), then it is not quite easy to imagine that the conditions are not what we would tolerate in the West. It doesn't necessarily mean that they are being exploited, any more than fair traders in the Windward Isles are being exploited for growing bananas in a traditional way (i.e. climbing trees without a safety net or harness).

The idea of fair trade is that you operate with companies and sell their products in a receptive market and you set some standards for wages and conditions that are at least as good, if not better than those of other local companies of a similar nature in that country. Ideally the next step is to gradually improve safety, working environment and conditions by education. There are always companies which operate outside of the ethical standards (this also happens in Europe), but just running away from them doesn’t solve the problem or help the employees to get better conditions and pay.

I guess my point is that I think we in the west have a very rosy view of the world and how it should be and we lose sight of the fact that not everyone in the world enjoys such luxury as we do and, surprisingly, that they get along quite ok without it.

More on this later......

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