A Few Small Steps
My run was a complete disaster this morning! I don’t know what happened but there are days like that I suppose. So my run turned into a walk and I had a great big long think. I was thinking about what I was going to do today. The sky was bright blue and the sun was shining and so I felt very energised. Today was definitely going to be a day for a spring clean. Today I would be hitting the wardrobe! I’ve mentioned before my interest in minimalism. I can’t claim to be a minimalist but I have become a more mindful person over the last few years since moving to France. I simply choose not to buy things a lot of the time. If I can make do, then I try to make do. Part of this is brought on by the fact that I don’t have a huge amount of disposable income, but hand on heart it is mostly to do with not wanting to consume blindly.
We spent the last ten days with Grand-mère in her home, as she was recovering from hand surgery. It was easier for us to go over there than for her to come here and negotiate all of the steps in our house. I have a guilty admission. Whenever we’re in her house I turn into an open-mouthed imbecile for one deadly reason. The TV!
We don’t have TV channels in our house – for a number of reasons but mainly because the pull of it can be stronger than me! So the moving images on the screen in the corner of her sitting room tend to mesmerize me and suck me in! I can’t fight it! So whenever we’re in Grand-mère’s I watch TV. There are however some fantastic current affairs programmes and documentaries and on Saturday I saw a report on what I can only describe as a disgusting and painful reminder of how mindless we can be. It was a report on the cheap production of leather, fueled by the fashion industry’s hunger, which is in turn fueled by our need to feel special.
First of all, I am not vegetarian, so this is not an anti-meat rant. I am by no means blemish free when it comes to buying the wrong thing sometimes. I certainly cannot claim to know it all – I have so much to learn. But I don’t like feeling ignorant and I like to make an informed choice if I can. We are not always presented with the capability to make good choices. Stuff is hidden from us all the time. Making healthy eating choices can be hard for example. We are struck dumb by “experts” who lie about what is good for us because they often have a paid agenda. The same is true of many industries. We have to pick our way through information to make sense of it. The documentary I saw on Saturday was sickening and it wasn’t because of what we put into our bodies but what we choose to put on our bodies.
The documentary starts with a visit to a French leather producer. His tannery operates to EU norms and his plight is that he is simply undercut by cheaper imports. This isn’t major news. We know this story. What we don’t know (or choose to ignore) is how is it possible that he is constantly undercut?
He is followed to the main leather tradeshow in Paris by the cameras, and we learn that he needs to charge 100€ per square metre of leather. His competitors charge 16€. We know this stuff happens all of the time everywhere, but we never ask how competitors in often very poor countries can provide a product at a vastly cheaper price. The answer is of course cheap labour. And why is it cheap? Child labour, poor working conditions, dangerous or illegal work practices. The story is sad and old. Fat cats get richer and the poor die very often. Our laws protect us here. We have almost eradicated these practices in our comfy western quarters thanks to our legislation. The awful reality is, there are labour laws in place in the countries of these “low-price” competitors. But they are simply ignored. There are lawyers and activists who are threatened because they try to regulate the situation. And we unconsciously permit it. And we unconsciously demand it. And we unconsciously condone it.
I don’t want to guilt-trip you today. We all let this type of thing happen. I have included the link here for any francophone who would like to watch the report (sorry I haven’t been able to find a sub-titled version. Maybe someone more tech-savvy than me would have a solution) The images however speak for themselves. Flick through to 24mins 10seconds and you can see how chemicals pour freely as waste from the tanneries into the river that people drink from.
The basic bottom line is: To produce our “fashion” leather, human beings are working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week in 50 degrees centigrade with no ventilation. For us to feel and look good, human beings are regularly exposed to mercury and chrome 6 (banned here) to fix the colours of the leather. For us to follow fashion, children are being exposed to chemicals that strip their pulmonary resistance and leave them vulnerable to TB.
On the flip side of this dirty affair, our children are being exposed to these chemicals in the imported finished product. There is a task force in France that randomly tests leather items and pulls them if the chemical levels are considered dangerous. 40% of the items tested are positive. There’s food for thought. We are letting our children wear these chemicals on their person – willingly.
I know we can’t fix everything. I know we often don’t have the money to go for the higher end product. But what I would like to urge you to think about is, can we do anything to change our habits? Do we need so many clothes? I look at very classy French women here in awe. I’m in awe at how they assemble themselves in a seemingly effortless way. And what I’ve noticed is, they are prepared to live with less, but what they have is generally of better quality. Now I am no classy chick (which is why I look at these ladies in awe!) but I do try to really appreciate what I have and to take care of it. We all know the shops and chains that are guilty of supporting awful practices. If something is cheap we need to ask ourselves why and we need to come to the conclusion it’s not for a good reason. I am as guilty as the next person and so I was glad of the reminder. Every once in a while could we ask ourselves if “this time can I find a more ethical alternative?” I prefer to think of something as worth taking care of and not just replaceable.
Replaceable comes at a high cost.
I was on my walk/run today feeling very lucky and very grateful. I breathe clean air. My children don’t have to work to support me. We are able to eat well. We have a roof over our heads. Life can be simple with simple pleasures. We need to see beauty in what is around us and learn to ignore what other people tell us we should find beautiful. If I’ve bored you today well – tomorrow is another day. Here are a few simple photos to make up for it. The beauty is in the cleanliness of the crisp, cold day. That is something I can’t buy!