I have always considered myself a reasonably ethical person. I took on board the church's social justice teachings from an early age. I really do believe that those of us who have all that we need and more have a responsibility to those who have less, and I believe we all share a responsibility to care for creation. That is why it came as a great shock to me to discover – I am an unethical shopper!
The journey to this discovery began with World Vision's “Don't Trade Lives” campaign, which told me that much of the chocolate I eat is produced by child slave labour on the Ivory Coast. When my own children have the benefit of education, nutrition, and housing, how can I support someone else's children being sold into slavery? Fortunately, my local supermarket has begun stocking fair trade chocolate – so I can continue to add to my obesity problem with a clean conscience.
At least I thought I could have a clean conscience. Then I bought a copy of “The Guide to Ethical Supermarket Shopping”, which is printed on 100% recycled paper.
In the first couple of pages, this book advised me that the company which produces my hair dye is under an international boycott because it still uses animal testing (I could go grey worrying over that one) and the company that produces one of my lupus medications is under boycott because it won't take responsibility for a drug it produced that had serious side effects. This was bad – then I read on and informed my daughter that the cola she drinks is produced by a company involved in kidnapping and murder in Columbia.
As it turns out, almost everything I buy is produced by slave labour, endangers orangutans, is transported so far it is a carbon emissions problem, or is produced by a company that supports evil military dictatorships or dumps toxic waste in the Amazon. Everything else I buy causes cancer or heart disease.
I put the book down while I had a fair trade coffee to clear my head. I'd just have to buy the brands that got the tick in the book in every category. It would take a while to get used to it – but it would be OK. It was just a matter of changing habits.
That's when my daughter picked up the book, and announced, “Uh, Mum, we have a problem. Dental floss is evil.”
“All dental floss?”
“Not all. One brand gets the tick, but it's one I've never seen or heard of. I don't know for sure if it exists. Toothpaste is universally evil, and toothbrushes are pretty dodgy too.”
“Oh,” I said. “How do we break this news to our dentist? He seems to think dental hygiene is a good thing.”
“And we're going to have trouble finding shampoo that doesn't have palm oil in it. Palm oil plantations are displacing orangutans!”
Surely I couldn't leave an orangutan homeless just so I could have clean hair!
So what do we do? We have to eat, we have to take medications, and we even have to clean our teeth. I guess we need to be aware that what we buy does have an impact on God's creation, and on other people. And we try to make the best choices that are available to us.
The church council on Wednesday evening voted that in future all of the church's purchases would be ethical in terms of fair trade and environmental issues, wherever this was possible. It doesn't mean everything we buy will be totally without bad consequences somewhere – but we'll do our best.
Grace and peace