Updated: Oct 13, 2019
If you had the power to change a person’s life for the better, would you utilize your power?
If you had the power to stop a family from going hungry, would you put your power into action? I can assure you that this power doesn’t affect your life or take time away from your loved ones, your job or your well-being. This power simultaneously defeats birth mortality rates, makes diseases less threatening, increases the number of children receiving an education and provides jobs to both mothers and fathers in need of financial income – you would use it, right? I believe most people on our planet would use this power. What would you say if I told you that you do have this power? This isn’t a made up super power, you wake up with this power every day of your life. I hope that you would ask, “How?” I have the answer – let me tell you how.
Consumerism is a very valuable and powerful aspect in our global market.
Supply and demand is the quintessential component within economics and we as consumers are the ones driving its’ success. Every day we make purchases that better our lives, that make us come alive and keep us moving forward. The clothing we buy for our children to wear, the shoes that we put on in the morning that carry us through our days’ work and the food we need to put dinner on the table – We are consumers. How we choose to consume our products and what type of products we consume changes the way our world prospers.
It’s easy to feel small on this planet. It’s easy to look up in the stars and to be humbled by the magnitude of our universe. It’s easy to be overloaded on information we receive and because it’s hard to find a way to make our world a better place it’s easy to stay focused within our individual lives instead. It’s important to be aware of the resources we are consuming in order to survive. As consumers, how do we ensure that we make choices that better our world in which we live?
This is where our power lies: We tell corporations – large and small – what products we want and they listen. We say we want beautiful smelling candles made with natural oils, they’ll make beautiful smelling candles made with natural oils. We say we want a slow cooker that cooks in half the time, they’ll make a slow cooker that cooks in half the time. And if competition is strong we might even get one that cooks in a quarter of the time because that is what we said is wanted. We say it in how often we purchase these items and they track our consumption. They discontinue the items we aren’t buying. It’s like our economy’s version of natural selection. This is their supply chain and these corporations monitor marketing and sales every day. They listen to us and our needs as we speak to them on what we want through our purchases.
Starbucks is a company that has been around since the early 1970s. My first recollection of the company existing was towards the last two years of high school when my friends and I discovered that coffee was really tasty. We loved meeting each other at coffee shops once school was finished but we didn’t meet at any coffee shop – we met at Starbucks. In January of 2003 the market value for a SBUX share was $5.68. When I graduated from high school in June of 2004 the stock had increased its value to $10.87. When we picture powerful people, we typically picture smart men and women in suits working on Wall Street as the power hitters in our society. How mind blowing is it to realize that it’s actually the high school and college students who haven’t received their degrees yet calling the shots in our world market? My friends and my seventeen year old self were the reason Starbucks’ stock doubled itself in one year. May 2017 Starbucks hit an all time high at $63.61 and at this time had already put mom and pop shops out of business, became a household name and manipulated cultures on an international scale. When I’m driving to work in the morning and I choose to buy a Starbucks coffee I’m saying to the world that I’m ok with this. I’m saying that I’m happy Starbucks is here. That I accept how this company has changed the world in which I live. We vote for our government every four years but we vote for the type of world we want to see with our dollar every day. When you wake up in the morning and you look yourself in the mirror – you need to understand your power and how you, as a consumer, is shaping the world in which you live. What a powerful tool it is to carry in our pockets and our purses every single day.
So this is where it gets really exciting: How does this idea play into effect within communities ready for development? Katy and Philip Leakey are the owners of a Fair Trade company called The Leakey Collection who operate in Kenya and sell their products globally. The Leakey Collection has been providing work opportunity to the Maasai for over fifteen years and has transformed a once developing region into a well-oiled machine thriving from work opportunity. I had the privilege of staying with Katy and Philip twice – one visit in the summer of 2016 and the second in the winter of 2018 on the quest of researching the benefits stemming from a Fair Trade company. The company was started as a response to the ever-changing climate and continual droughts that threaten the land. As Pastoralists, the Maasai receive monetary value utilizing cattle. But as the weather changes and resources deplete, the opportunity to bring in this new form of cash flow working for the company is not just appealing to the Maasai it’s essential. To better understand what I mean by Fair Trade it is often described as this: Trade in which fair prices are paid to producers in developing countries. In addition, Fair Trade takes it further by producing products using sustainable practices and materials while making sure humanitarian rights are met for all contractors or artisan partners. I have a life and a career just like everyone else on this planet and I can’t quit my job just to help someone else get food on the table but what I can do is support Fair Trade companies who are actually making a difference out there and have taken their corporate responsibility to making this world a better place for everyone. The positive effects that Fair Trade companies produce are crucial for the progress within our world.
From my time spent with the Maasai and learning about The Leakey Collection, here is a list of how the community has changed:
Change #1: Higher education for young girls. Families within this community of Maasai are finding value in educating all of their children as opposed to only educating their boys like in previous years. Since mothers are now working along side of their husbands, the additional income is allowing them to send more of their children to school. It has become desirable to educate their girls as opposed to marrying them off at the age of twelve for a dowry.
Change #2: Birth mortality rates are nearly non-existent. Due to the ability of affording healthcare and education within pregnancy, midwives and expecting mothers are able to understand how to be healthy throughout their entire term of pregnancy making them strong and capable of surviving childbirth. Since education within the community about pregnancy and childbirth for the past fifteen years has been made possible, child mortality rates have nearly stopped. Now mothers and infants are able to get immunized against diseases like Tuberculosis, Measles and Polio which has reduced child mortality.
Change #3: Access to Immunizations Due to the access of healthcare and immunizations, people are now able to afford the treatments and vaccinations needed. Before having work opportunity within the community, people were not able to afford the health care needed. Now with this new wave of income men, women and children are able to receive the medication and vaccinations needed.
Change #4: Balanced respect towards both genders. Since Maasai women have access to work opportunity, they are now able to make an income for themselves giving them a say in how money is spent for the family. This has provided women with a voice that they in previous years did not have. This has shifted the respect that both men and women receive throughout the community. One concept that I enjoyed learning while spending time with the Maasai was that young men are now more interested in marrying a woman who is more highly educated and working. With work opportunity, women are now able to support themselves making them independent from the necessity of being married and relying solely on their husbands for money and support.
Change #5: Other businesses have spawned. Traditionally the Maasai women will be the home maker once they are married. Literally, once a woman is married, she will spend about four months building her new home from gathered tree branches, rocks, mud and manure. Since more income is flowing throughout the community and women are busy working they don’t have time to build their new home and have now began hiring home builders to come into the community to build their home for them while they go to work. Businesses have either started within the community or are brought in from neighboring communities for this new demand.
Change #6: The community has led other communities to do the same. Due to word of mouth and visibly seeing the positive effects within this group of Maasai, other surrounding communities are finding inspiration in finding work opportunity outside of traditional pastoral practices and ultimately finding value in encouraging young girls to continue school past Primary school and continuing on to Secondary school.
Change #7: Access to nutrition Through eating a balanced diet malnutrition and food insufficiency diseases have been reduced since people are able to buy and grow all needed nutrients.
Change #8: Hygiene and Sanitation Availability of clean water through water treatment, body hygiene and clean clothing have heavily reduced the outbreak of scabbies.
Ok so you’re probably thinking, “Well yeah this all sounds good and I want to support Fair Trade companies but I don’t know where to find them or how to know if something is genuinely Fair Trade.” Next time you know you are going to want to buy something, search online to see where it can be found coming from a Fair Trade source. You want great Fair Trade shoes? Shop Able.com. You want beautiful jewelry? Shop The Leakey Collection. You want cute and affordable underwear, socks and panty hos? Shop wearpact.com. You want Fair Trade coffee, tea and sugar go to any major grocery store. I promise you it’s that easy. I didn’t even know about wearpact.com until writing this article but all I did was search for Fair Trade underwear and they were the first company that came up. Their about page assures us that they are Fair Trade certified, Organic 100 Content Standard and Global Organic Textile Standard. I read all of this within two minutes. And you know what? I’m sold! Next time I need any of those items I will shop from them because that’s the world I want to live in. I want to live in a world with companies like these.
The more we shop from companies like the ones I just listed the more profitable they will become which then motivates other companies not performing ethically to then follow lead. This is how we will change our world for the better. This is our power.
We’ve all heard the saying, “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will feed him and his family indefinitely.” This is incredibly applicable when it comes to the idea of creating work opportunity as opposed to providing aid. It’s very admirable to want to support companies that give much needed items to people within developing areas. Like companies that build wells, give shoes and provide clean water. We like that it’s a nice idea and we think, “If I needed clean water, I would appreciate it if someone gave me access to it.” But this type of aid is actually really detrimental to the progress and well being of communities in need of these things. If we want to help people then the best thing we can do is build a way to provide work opportunity. That way the people within that area are able to build their infrastructure in a lasting way making the need of aid unnecessary. Communities and people are able to stand on their own when work opportunity is provided.
I understand that it’s not the easiest task to buy every item from a Fair Trade company. I hope for a day when I can run to a store to buy an item quickly and not have to wonder if it was made ethically. But for now, I need to be able to plan ahead, not support fast fashion and be cognizant to companies making products ethically. And the more I support companies that are making products right, the more other companies will begin to follow lead. They will figure out the business aspect in providing products that are made ethically and in a way that falls financially in favor of the company’s profitability. I understand business and profits. I understand keeping production costs as low as possible in order for the business to survive and thrive. But I understand the importance of human dignity and the progression towards healthy societies and environments.
We need to support sustainable practices and products if we want our world to be the best world it can be. How we spend our dollar everyday changes the world.
Companies are the ones keeping our world running. But we, the consumers, are the reason these companies survive. They are nothing without us. Let us acknowledge our power and let our voice be heard through the products we purchase everyday. You have the power to provide a family with income that allows them to educate all of their children, have the vaccines for optimal health and shift cultures to respect both men and women. So with all of this said, what would you say if I told you that you do have this power? This isn’t a made up super power, you wake up with this power every day of your life. You will use your power, won’t you?