21 December 2011

Boycotting China - how it has gone

Readers with long memories will note that my new year's resolution in 2011 was to boycott Chinese goods, unless I could determine they were produced in a way that I felt was ethical (eg - trade union representation and ethical conditions of work). So how has it gone?

Firstly, I'll come clean where I have fallen down, through my own fault, on two occasions. Ben 10 figures (and pretty much everything else to do with that show) are manufactured in China. On one occasion, I'd promised my oldest son he could pick a toy (this is shortly after the birth of the youngest one), and he chose something I was supposed to be boycotting. On another occasion, I was buying replacement glasses (after a few smashes) and did not check. I got home to find out that I had bought something from China.

Other than those two episodes, I'm happy that I've achieved my objective which was to consciously choose not to buy Made in China goods. I don't want to re-run the "boycott" debate and whether it is a helpful term, which perhaps deserves another post in the new year. As best as possible, I'm going to continue to make that ethical choice in future. Dealing with a specific point raised in the comments back in January, what happens when I buy new electronic goods, next year or in the years that follow?

It may be simply unavoidable for a replacement device or electronic equipment to completely avoid dubious source materials or production. The only ethical choice will be to avoid consumption. Coltan sourced from the Democratic Republic of Congo almost certainly powers the laptop I'm writing on and the mobile phone I use. How many of us that have supported boycott campaigns (of Nestle for example) will continue to use products that clearly have as bad or worse backgrounds?

As a teenager, I boycotted South African goods in the era of apartheid. Consciously I will continue to avoid buying products from the USA, Zimbabwe, China and Israel. Sadly, Canada is likely to join that list due to its government position on the Kyoto treaty. I will also avoid (zealously) Nestle products and we have switched almost everything we do financially over to the Co-operative Group in the UK. The obvious criticism is that you end up avoiding buying anything - not actually a bad outcome if you are a member of an anti-consumerist party which fundamentally disagrees with our current economic system (and this is the subject of an upcoming post).

However, I want to end this post with a challenge for me and for the many of us for whom a simple "boycott" campaign is more about a "feelgood" factor for the person boycotting, rather than a consistent and ethically considered position.

Each weekday, I drive to work, car sharing with 2 others. As an alternative, the bus trip would be about 2.5 hours each way and on the two nights I work late, I would finish work after the last bus leaves. My diesel and my regular purchase of it supports an industry that is fundamentally damaging the planet. Not only that, the countries from which it is sourced are often those with dismal records on human rights and the repression of their own people. We are not in the financial position to afford an electric vehicle that could remove this dependence.

Most days in the last month, we've had the central heating on. The gas we purchase may well be sourced through Ecotricity, but it has to come from somewhere initially. Some of the countries that are the major producers (eg - Kazakstan) are far worse offenders than countries that I would otherwise boycott. Although we've had a wood burning stove installed in one room, there are times when it is too cold throughout the house to just use that alone.

So the challenge for all of when we talk about boycotts or ethical consumption is to avoid cherry picking and apply ethical standards consistently. This is not easy and something I hope to improve on in the coming year.


Adrian Windisch said...

It took longer but I was managing to source more ethical food and goods. Having a partner and baby now presents more of a challenge. Hats off to you for doing this

ChrisJS said...

I'm with you, the more we put our heads together to come up with ideas the better and the time is ripe as the immorality and flaws in the current system become glaringly obvious. I await you next post with interest.

Steve said...


I grow nearly all of my own food
work part-time locally
buy much less than I used to
burn sustainable local wood

You should try it. Maybe you won't feel the need to tell the world.

Peter Cranie said...

I take my hat off to you Steve. Yours is the ideal we strive for. My garden and greenhouse produce a bit but not enough to feed a family of four, even in mid summer. We also collect twigs, and small branches from parks when we go out. But I'm sorry you feel so cynical about discussing these things on a blog which hopes to influence a few others and promote a better consideration of the issues.

Thanks Adrian and Chris for your feedback too.

mitsukurina said...

"USA, Zimbabwe, China and Israel."

Are these really the four worst offenders out there? Why not Singapore (authoritarian police state), Sri Lanka (genocidal ethnic nationalists), Russia (dictatorship in all but name), all Arab countries (with the exceptions of Egypt, Tunisia, and perhaps Libya), and so on...