I’ve been thinking about the ethics of cheap goods since I read that last book, Cheap. She pointed out some truths that I hadn’t wanted to think about. Cheap goods are often made in China or the developing world where regulations are fewer and labor laws are almost nonexistent. By insisting on the cheapest prices we have conditioned ourselves to accept inferior goods because they offer the “best deal”. Craftsmanship has become rare enough that it is too expensive for most people. That wasn’t the case a generation ago. Durable goods were expected to be durable.
So, what’s a girl to do? I don’t want to contribute to exploitation in developing nations. I don’t want to buy goods with harmful chemicals or even lead paint for my family. I also want to get out of debt. I want my durable goods to be durable but I don’t want to have to spend my last penny on them.
As with many dilemmas, there is a clear answer but it’s not the easy one. The ethical answer is to only buy fair trade, organic, crafted goods. The welfare of people is more important than my desire for cheap. The problem is that, until I get out of debt, I can’t afford to do that. Maybe not even then. The market for those goods has become rarified and expensive. But, until we can afford them, I have no choice but to do the best I can.
Living as green as possible can also be the best financial choice. Thrift shops and gardening, making cleaners and detergents that are eco-friendly from wonderfully inexpensive ingredients, and saving energy and water are all money saving and green choices. While this doesn’t solve the problems of exploitation and harmful chemicals, it is the best I can do. The quest for cheap is a cultural thing and I am guilty as much as anyone. I can’t totally keep from buying goods made by exploited workers, they are too prevalent and the research necessary to avoid them is prohibitive.
The only ethical thing I can do is minimize my purchases. Not the worst thing in the world for my pocketbook, either. By being an ethically conscious consumer now, I will enable myself to be even more so later on. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s what I have. Thrifty tends to be both greener and a money saver. It’s also the ethical choice. Make it, mend it, make do, or do without. Maybe one person can’t save expolited workers and ecosystems, but every cheap tchatchki that I don’t buy is one less that needs to be produced.
It’s not much, but it’s what I can do.