Published: UFOURia Spring 2008
Tesco opens beside University Halls in Portstewart. McDonalds coming to Jordanstown. Is there any escape from the aggressive invasion of big companies in student life in Northern Ireland? Robin Peake sets out on his crusade to stop lining the pockets of the rich, and urges you to join him
At 21 my political mind is a mess. I joined the UUC Socialist Party at the start of this academic year and became a leftie without the beard. After Christmas I paid a tenner to become a member of the Alliance Party, notoriously neutral in a political climate dominated by religion/ideologies. Throw into the mix that I’m an evangelical Christian and you start to wonder how much of the political spectrum one man wants to cover. By my own admission I don’t know if I’m a Commie, a Capitalist or a Centralist. Yet while on my whirlwind tour of ideologies I’ve made one stop, and I’m starting to make a stand on it too. Consumer Choice.
It’s very easy in this day and age to agree with the argument that our voices don’t matter to the state elite, or to big corporations. Why even bother to vote in elections? Is my ‘x’ really going to make any difference amongst thousands? However I would argue that we vote every day – with our wallets. Daily we spend money on food, drink, fuel and plenty of other wee things without thinking. And yet the consumer choices we make during our days as students are those that our most likely to stick with us throughout the rest of our lives. Why do you think newspapers such as The Times are prepared to sell for far less than retail price in Student’s Union shops? Why do you think Freshers week is full of banks clamouring to get you on board? Because in both cases, they know the power of the choices made by students. The students of today are the leaders of tomorrow who will influence the decisions and consumer choices of others. That is why I think now is the optimum time to think about what you are spending your money on.
Have you ever fully thought of the benefits on offer by buying Northern Irish produce? Cookstown Ham, Ormo Bread, Ballyrashane Milk, Tayto Crisps, Smithicks Ale By spending your money on these items and countless others which have been produced in the six counties then you are keeping people in employment. If employment is high, then income is generated by more workers, which in turn is spent in the local economy; in goods, services and leisure. If a company is doing well through increased sales (e.g. Linwoods of Co. Armagh) then this in turn can create more opportunities for graduates – Marketing, Advertising roles; Management positions, Accountants, Web designers and IT technicians: all opportunities that arise from a company’s expansion.
Think too of where you buy your food and drink. Why not use the local corner shop instead of the branded supermarket? Because it’s more expensive? Fair point, but when you’re in your 30s with money to spare and can’t find anything other than a Tescos to shop in just remember who to blame.
Contribute to World Poverty – Or not?
There are those that will say that by buying ‘Fairtrade’ you are making the world a better place and alleviating global poverty. I propose a much darker alternative. By not buying Fair Trade where possible, you are increasing the power that large companies such as Nestlé have over highly skilled and underpaid workers. You are increasing the hours of the third world workers by your purchase, who needs to step up production to fulfil your wants. You are increasing the gap between rich and poor. My housemate tells me that he doesn’t buy Fairtrade coffee because “it’s a rip off.” I argue that other brands of coffee are ripping off their poverty-stricken employees, and that really that’s the choice it bottles down to – Who should pay the price? Consumers with a few extra quid or producers with no fair deal in sight? By using your loaf and buying Fairtrade wine, clothes (UU hoodies available), tea, rice you are guaranteeing that at the other end of the line more of your money is going towards the farmer and his family, and not only that, but there is also extra money available to build schools and basic hospitals. The farmer then, with a bit of extra income is able to buy animals off his neighbour who then too has received some of your money. The consequences of our money are far reaching, and we need to realise our responsibility in spending. Look out for the Fairtrade logo on products. Encourage your friends to think seriously through the benefits. Pester the UU authorities to strap on a pair and achieve ‘Fairtrade University’ status.
So next time you’re thinking of heading out for some groceries, look at where they come from, and think of who is benefiting from your purchase. And, if you end up buying something local, or something with the ‘Fairtrade’ logo then you’ll probably find that you and your conscience have benefited too.