Thursday, February 5, 2009

Making it myself; viable, ethical, sustainable living:

I hesitate to introduce a serious note to a place that's intended to be relaxing, quiet, peaceful and above all, pleasurable to visit. But one of my strongest characteristics is an enduring concern with the political side of life. I believe that politics underpins every aspect of our lives, from the moment we get up in the morning, to the moment we go to sleep at night. In the night, it affects where and how we sleep, with what comfort and for how long. I don't want to spoil the light hearted atmosphere of the Lollyshop with too much of my political interest. But I do want to acknowledge that it exists, and now and again, admit that it influences what I am doing when I make things and show them on my blog.

When I was a young mum, making things for the household, from baked goods to clothing, to bedding and other soft furnishing, was cost effective. We could buy those things, if we wanted to. But the cheaper stuff, the affordable stuff, was not as good in quality as things we made ourselves.

At the time, Indonesia was over a decade into the process of becoming one of the first world's cheap goods factories. In the 1960s, with help from the West, General Suharto flattened and emptied self-sustaining villages and misplaced thousands and thousands of people. He killed over a million people who disagreed with his actions. He also took massive loans from the World Bank. To get the loans, he agreed to give western companies access to Indonesian workers, property and resources at low prices. Because of this, those companies could produce the things we love to consume, at minimal cost, with minimal probability of the resulting human rights abuses being seen by consumers in places like Australia.

Some people think that such workers are better off than they used to be, because they have more dollars than they used to have. We westerners tend to measure well-being in terms of dollars. But before the western economic machine came to their countries, those workers had the things they needed, and needed no money. Now, they not only have little that they need for a decent quality of life, they will never have enough to buy the things they are slaving to produce. On that measure, a few dollars each week has not made these workers more wealthy. I think that they really are a slave labour force, co-opted by wealthy countries (like ours) because without them we won't be able to afford all the 'stuff' we think we should have.

These days, we are more aware of the issue of 'sweat shop' labour. It happens in Australia, we know that it happens all over SE Asia and in Africa. That's a particular problem for the Lollyshop. I love my chocolate. But much Cocoa for chocolate has been farmed by slave labourers in Africa. Worse, those workers are sometimes children! What to do? There's only one solution for me. I can locate child-labour free chocolate if I choose to. In general, I can avoid using brands that are a product of sweatshop labour. And, I can return to making it myself.

Making it myself is, once again, quite cost effective. When I wear something that I made, or use something I made, or eat something I made from scratch, I know that at least at some point in the chain of production, I have interfered with the plundering of resources and labour from other countries. That's another satisfying result of having made an effort to produce the things that I and my family need and like.


Marinka said...

This was fascinating, thank you. For me, becoming a mother, made it more important to make things from scratch, for exactly the reasons you mentioned.

Ruthie said...

Thank you so much Marinka ... and I was nervous about this post!