Ethical shopping habits to implement as we prepare to exit lockdown 

Trudy Feenane

If you are somewhat of an opportunist, you may have utilised the lockdown period as a force to question what habits you deem constructive and worthy of survival, and those you decide to leave behind. 

As Covid-19 has brought all consumerism to a standstill, shopping habits are one such avenue that requires re-evaluation; questioning what we buy and why we buy it has never been so apt.

In line with the government’s roadmap for the easement of restrictions, all retail outlets were authorised to reopen their doors on June 8th.  Since then, clothes shops, book stores and craft shops that line our towns and villages have become part of the community spirit again.

The reopening of these local businesses, independent retailers and small medium enterprises (SMEs) does not come without its challenges. They will be faced with critical continuity challenges in a post corona landscape.

Over half of the SMEs felt they would last fewer than six months as viable going concerns due to the effects of the pandemic, in a recent survey conducted by Irish Small and Medium Enterprises (ISME). A going concern is the assumption that the business will continue to trade and meet all of its financial obligations for a period of time, according to the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants.

Shopping local to support these independent retailers has never been so important and is one such shopping habit consumers can implement. By shopping locally, more money is kept in your community, and you will inadvertently contribute to the sponsorship of local GAA clubs, summer camps and projects.

With online revenues soaring to 196 per cent in early April, almost treble their pre corona levels, local retailers are struggling to stay afloat without the support of online sales, according to new data compiled by Wolfgang Digital, an Irish digital marketing agency. By shopping local, you can support the financial welfare of your community.

Shopping local also constitutes an awareness of where your food produce comes from. This higher awareness for local and national traceability also means less of a carbon footprint, and no added maritime or aviation emissions. Ireland’s climate accommodates the growth of fruit such as apples, strawberries, raspberries and plums, yet nine out of 10 apples in Irish supermarkets are imported, according to Michael Kelly, founder of Grow It Yourself.

Buying directly from the farmer is one such change we can make. Joining a local Community Supported Farming (CSA) initiative enables consumers to contribute to a local farmer’s livelihood by paying in advance for fresh, organic produce. This ensures the farmer gets a fair payment rather than selling their produce to business oligarchies who hike up the prices. There are currently 10 CSAs in action around the country, listed on its website community supported agriculture.ie, offering a regular box of organic fruit and vegetables for about €700 per annum, equating to under €15 a week.

Choosing to buy Irish produce over imported goods is another constructive choice when it comes to meat. With the possibility of a no-deal Brexit looming, up to one-third of Irish farmers could be forced out of business. Tariffs on beef could rise to 50 per cent of the current export price, making Irish beef uncompetitive in its main export country, according to a study carried out by The Central Bank.

Channelling that awareness for buying Irish meat over its foreign counterparts means you are supporting the future of Irish farmers. Irish farmers’ use of antibiotics and hormones in livestock is currently among the lowest in Europe, according to The Farmers Journal. Shopping local and buying Irish means you are fully informed on the source of the produce from farm to fork.

The closure of retail outlets on March 24th in line with government measures had a drastic effect on the garment industry in Bangladesh. Clothing brands cancelled and refused to pay for their orders, even though suppliers had purchased the raw materials and the manufacturing process had begun. This is according to Meg Lewis of Labour Behind the Label, who also stated that in some cases, retailers were refusing to pay for orders they had already received.

The 4.1 million garment workers, most of whom are women, were furloughed or laid off without wages, a detrimental step for workers that live from pay check to pay check, according to the founder of Remake, a non-profit fashion activism organisation.

As retail outlets are now beginning to reopen their doors, being aware of what stores are involved in these unjust practices means you can take measures to avoid supporting them. The recent #PayUp initiative launched by Remake demands brands to pay suppliers for all orders that were cancelled or paused as a result of the coronavirus. These payments must be made in full and in a timely fashion without requesting discounts; a practice which often occurs.

Since its launch, 16 brands have agreed to pay back orders, totalling about €500 million in Bangladesh, according to Remake. Brands that have not yet committed to paying back include Topshop, Forever 21, Primark and Levi’s.

To take these constructive sartorial habits one step further, committing to a shopping challenge is worthy of a trial. This can include anything from shopping second hand only for a year, avoiding fast fashion brands, supporting local clothes shops or avoiding online shopping.

Now that we have readily taken a step back from retail shopping, we begin to realise that we do not actually need it, nor do we miss the stress involved. The wardrobe clear out has perhaps rekindled a tailored like fire in you, and you have discovered the abundance of clothes you, your mother – and possibly your granny depending on how far you rose on the wardrobe clear out metric – have forgotten about or dismissed for the feeling of ‘newness’. We begin to realise what we already have is plentiful.

Smaller steps can be implemented too, regardless of the item in question. Make a shopping list, stick to it and avoid bulk buying. Take time to think about an item before buying it, and do not buy it unless you actually need it.

Make these small changes your post coronavirus mantra, and try to keep them in mind through the facade of your overly bulging basket after queuing an hour to get into Penney’s.

Trudy Feenane

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