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The self-indulgence of bourgeois consumer boycotts

Dear Subcomandauntie, In between my bizarre double-life as a financial adviser and Marxist guerrilla, I regularly go jogging and clubbing. Such a lifestyle makes a decent pair of trainers essential. How can I protect my little pinkies in trendy, reliable footwear without wearing expensive branded shoes stitched together by mainly Third-World women or child workers for a few pence a day? Yours, Dancing Queen, Leeds

August 1, 2004
2 min read

Dear Dancing Queen,

Subcomandauntie’s mailbag has once again been bulging with letters on ethical-consumer issues (don’t you people have any real problems?). I”m afraid there’s no easy answer, but you mustn’t feel guilty about buying sweatshop labour products: half the world’s workers are denied the basic right to even join a trade union, so most clothing we buy reeks of exploitation.

Nor should you treat the ethical purchasing of trainers as an act of self-indulgent consumer choice, as many ‘bourgeois boycotters’ do. Your power to choose is a luxury most of the world’s working classes don’t have: Chinese or Indonesian workers in tax-free, anti-union export-processing zones cannot suddenly decide to go and work in better conditions.

As a stand-alone act, boycotting sweated labour products in favour of a ‘fair-trade label’ usually means redistributing wealth from one country’s working class to another. This does nothing to eradicate sweatshop labour itself.

There are ‘ethical footwear’ options out there, however. Ethical Wares is run by vegans who seek to trade goods that are non-exploitative of animals, humans and the wider environment. A similar venture is Vegetarian Shoes. Check out the websites www.ethicalconsumer.org and www.nosweatapparel.com for outlets.

But ultimately, whatever trainers you purchase, someone or something will always be exploited as long as you continue to work for the system. Auntie ‘sub-commands’ you to cut down on selling dodgy pensions and partying all night.

Visit www.nosweat.org.uk or www.labourbehindthelabel.org, and become an active campaigner yourself. Oh, and Dancing Queen, one last thing: we don’t wear trainers for guerrilla warfare. Tut.

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