The Little Things Count
Ethical Trade Stories: Analese S.
As a missionary, I had access to less…less funds, less clothing, less options. I find that I miss that simple lifestyle.
I began learning about fair trade and sustainability when I was in business school. Attending a Jesuit University, I had the opportunity to take business ethics and social justice classes where I learned about poor business practices and the effects they had on stakeholders and the world. On the flip side, I also learned about companies who were changing their business practices to be more sustainable for the environment or who were investigating their supply chains to make sure their practices were ethical.
After college, I encountered the effects of poor business practices firsthand during my volunteer service year in Cambodia. I was a high school English teacher for the children of poor families in the capital city of Phnom Penh. Many of the parents of my students were factory workers or street sellers. They were dirt poor and struggled to support their families. When I would travel through the city, I would see open air trucks packed with factory workers drive by heading to the large factories on the edge of the city. China is heavily involved in Cambodian affairs particularly in trade and enterprise. The district of garment warehouses was characterized by the names of Chinese companies; companies that I am sure sell clothes in the U.S.
Life After Mission
Having returned from Cambodia, I find myself looking at the tags of my clothes and clothes I am shopping for. I find that many come from southeast Asian countries that I have lived in and visited. As a missionary, I had access to less…less funds, less clothing, less options. I find that I miss that simple lifestyle. A lifestyle focused on intangibles instead of tangibles. A life where I didn’t need twenty different pairs of shoes and five of the same shirt in different colors.
I find that I miss that simple lifestyle.
This is not to say that consumerism is not present in Cambodia. Many people in Cambodia make their living from selling goods and the people there are always wanting for more just like people here. The difference is that Cambodians do not have the capacity to have a lot because it is a developing country. Most people live in a single room or shack with their families.
These experiences have stamped themselves on my heart. It allows me to truly understand the difference between need and want. So now, when I shop, I ask myself what do I truly need? I find myself constantly thinking about my purchases and putting them in perspective…I spent $20 on dinner; that could pay for months of school in another country. I am motivated to be a conscious consumer by my experiences, but also by respect for the planet.
Conscious Consumerism Can Be Easy
It is overwhelming to hear about climate change and the dire results it has. It can be intimidating to strive to live a sustainable lifestyle. However, conscious consumerism can be as simple as having a separate can for recycling, using Tupperware instead of plastic baggies, having a reusable water bottle, or bringing your reusable grocery bags to the store so you don’t have to take plastic bags. I have found that the little things count: putting my reusable grocery bags near the door so I don’t forget them on the way to the store, bringing my reusable water bottle with me everywhere. Consumerism is a large problem because the world is large and growing. I feel empowered to do the little things because I know that just contribution chips away at the negative effects of consumerism. I am empowered by the lives of the people in Cambodia.
Analese is a staff member for CRS.