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A short article written for the Christmas ‘Bows & Bells’ edition of the Snippets Zine at cutoutandkeep.net on ethical xmas shopping. (Though obscurely Cat spelled my name wrong on the article…) The picture of the Alpaca that went along with it was pretty rocking too.

Tired of the relentless consumerism of the Christmas season? Sick of spending countless hours, struggling through crowded shops in search of gifts for friends and family only to end up adding to the pile of things they own that they don’t want and need even less? Feel the cold sweat of dread as December creeps onwards, only for you not to have even begun your shopping? Until a few years ago, short of abstaining from the whole silly process there wasn’t much to do in the way of easily accessible protest. Not so these days, the ethically minded consumer (or else those just in search of something that bit different) are no longer confined to recycled paper xmas cards and second hand books or other bric-a-brac from the nearest charity shop.

Ever since Oxfam cornered the market with their ‘fun-usual’ gifts, the last few years have seen increasing numbers of charities get in on the act. Up and down the country office ‘Secret Santa’ with its excess of toiletries is being replaced by clubbing together to buy poverty-stricken villages a well, or a cow, or desks for their school. What better way to ease the guilt of all that packaging, wrapping and cards that will be thrown away over the season, than buying some saplings to help keep farm land from eroding into desert? Help the Aged and World Vision are just a few of the charities who have cottoned onto the discovery that offering people the opportunity to make a tangible and specified difference to other people’s lives is a far more effective way to encourage them to part with their money than a thousand guilt inducing ads or begging letters. Selection boxes and advent calendars in a variety of flavours of fair trade chocolate are ridding seasonal indulgences of that bitter after-taste of guilt. (And for the ultimate rebellion against that aunt who stole your idea of getting your younger cousin Monopoly, try the range of colourful and ethically educational games from the Amnesty International website).

And it’s all available from the comfort of your computer chair. Ethical shopping is unsurprisingly easier online, a few clicks of the mouse and your presents are winging their way towards yourself or your loved ones through the wonders of the postal service. Add to that all the hours that you won’t spend sitting in traffic queues, searching for parking or munching over-processed fast-food, and you’re helping the environment without even trying!

So whether your tastes run to providing inoculations for old people in India, school books or uniforms for children in Africa or seeds and tools for farmers in Ecuador. Or whether you just like knowing that the stocking fillers you get for your children weren’t made in sweatshops by children half their age. Just think about it. The next time you find yourself unable to find a gift for the relative with practically ‘everything’, consider getting them a gift for someone who has practically nothing.

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