Does it really make sense to contribute, through our consumerism, to endangering our jobs and turning earth into a less human-friendly place?

 

Let’s face it. Most of us like to consume. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Consumerism is, in fact, necessary, as the consumption of goods and services means that the companies we work for earn income, which in part is given to us in return for our work. However, there are a few rules that we need to consider, so that consumerism has positive and not negative effects for us. We need to get used to consume more responsibly. This means consuming a little less of everything, focussing on things that have value for us, personally.

No one wants consumersim to have negative effects, most certainly not for ourselves. But then why does our consumerism not reflect this notion? If we were to analyse our own purchasing behaviour, most of us would find that all too often we look at things that are made here, in Europe, but then put them back in the shelf, opting for something else that is not made in Europe but is cheaper. This pattern of behaviour saves money and enables us to consume other things as well.

However, whenever we are astonished at the comparatively high prices of goods made in Europe we hardly ever think about our own wages, which we would doubtless scale up if we could. Nor do we think of non-wage labour costs in such instances. And what about filtering equipment in factories and new production technology that is more environment-friendly than previous technologies?

Many people buy cheap goods because they can’t afford more expensive goods. But most of us do it for other reasons than financial necessities: We want more. And we want things to be cheap, as this means we can afford more. Even if this means that we need to turn a blind eye to inconvient facts. One of the biggest scandals we tend to ignore is that the production methods that are necessary to produce goods in a cheap manner are illegal in Europe. Many goods that are made in oversees markets are produced using methods that disregard fundamental human rights, such as living wages, occupational health and safety, as well as the protection of our human-friendly environment. There are plenty of well-known examples for such methods in the textile and electronics industries.  But they extend to many other industries as well.

In purchasing such cheap goods, we signal to their less responsible producers that we are fine with their business models and production methods. Moreover, we are also giving these companies a comparative advantage vis-à-vis our own companies, which produce according to our established European social and environmental standards and therefore have much higher production costs. In this context, isn’t it a bit unfortunate that it is our companies that pay the wages we earn?

There are approximately 508 millionen EU citizens. The less responsible consumerism of each and every one of us establishes trends that dilute our wealth and destroy our environment. [1]

We, the citizens of Europe, should develop a more balanced consumerism, which helps to sustain our social and environmental standards and stabilises the European economy we depend upon. We have the potential to participate, through our consumerism, in the improvement of corporate culture and the development of goods that are based on production methods that improve our own well-being. We may and shall participate. And in doing so we need to live up to our responsibility.

[1]Despite the lack of official documentation on this subject, it is crystal clear that mass consumption of cheap and ethically questionable goods from other less responible markets is rendering our own standards useless. It also damages our common welfare. During the past decades, our mass consumption of cheap foreign goods has already destroyed entire industries in Europe, industries that Europe used to be leading in. And every single citizen is paying the price, even the company owner who is taxed much higher than he would be if our system were responsible.