In this blog Dr Eve Poole OBE explores the lure of consumerism and how Christians can use their own consumer behaviour to redeem the marketplace. Using an ordinary bank statement, she explains how you can fine-tune your own consumer report card so that it serves God and not Mammon.
What does it mean when you ‘spend’ your money? Is it spent? Of course not. It travels. The New Economics Foundation has devised a clever tool to track this, called the Local Multiplier 3 methodology. It varies a little by area, but to give you an example, their study in Northumberland found that every £1 spent with a local supplier was worth £1.76 to the local economy, and only 36p if it was spent in a chain-store or national brand. That makes £1 spent locally worth almost 400% more. For the Council, this meant that if they were to spend just 10% more of their annual procurement budget locally, it would mean £34 million extra circulating in the local economy each year. What would it mean for your local economy, if everyone spent more money in locally owned enterprises rather than in trendy chains or online?
So when you ‘spend’ your money, don’t ‘throw it away’. Send it out to be salt and light, so that its energy multiplies. Because your money acts like a vote. The more something gets voted for, the more it happens, which is why over time the market ends up just meeting the needs of the rich and powerful. But we can use our votes more carefully than this.
One example of Christian activism in this area is the story of the fair trade movement. Rooted in the Christian faith, Traidcraft was founded in 1979 and was influential – alongside CAFOD, Christian Aid, Oxfam and others – in establishing the Fairtrade Foundation in 1992. By 1998, the Fairtrade market in the UK was worth around £17million annually. During the noughties the market multiplied exponentially and is now worth over £1billion a year. In coffee alone, Fairtrade now accounts for almost a quarter of the UK’s roast and ground market. Fairtrade bananas were only introduced in 1996. Now a third of the bananas we buy are Fairtrade, so in the UK we eat 3,000 Fairtrade bananas every minute! It doesn’t really take that long to transform whole sectors by creating an entirely new segment, if we just chose positively at the checkout.
As well as spending positively, you can avoid enterprises you dislike. Consumer boycotts have a noble history, from the historical sugar and chocolate boycotts over the slave trade and indentured labour, to boycotts of Apartheid South Africa when I was a student. Modern campaigns over animal testing, the fur trade, poor environmental and fishing practices, sweatshop labour, and human rights abuses, have resulted in several company climb-downs, in the face of falling sales and negative publicity, and social media has made it even easier for these campaigns to hit home.
And as they say, if you think you’re too small to make a difference, you’ve never been in bed with a mosquito. In spite of the gloomy headlines, in the UK the Christian lobby is still a force to be reckoned with. Even in the last Census there were over 26 million of us. Just to put that into perspective, one of the strongest lobbies in the world is the US National Rifle Association. And they only have about 4 million members. Ok, they’re armed, but we’re dangerous. We’ve got shoes! Did you know that in the UK, we each own on average 13 pairs of shoes? Women tend to own 7 pairs more than men; and 37% of the population own 2 pairs of shoes they’ve never worn. So could you vote with your feet, and donate a pair of shoes to your local charity shop? Say your spare shoes sell at an average of £5 a pair. If all your local churches took their shoes in, that might well fetch over a thousand pounds. That could pay for safe water for a thousand people. It could fix about 50 wells. It could buy 150 mosquito nets or educate 50 children. Just your old shoes.
You can make a start today. Fish out your bank statement and imagine that St Peter has asked to see it as your personal economics report card. Are you proud of every single transaction? Is each one salt and light? Research the companies listed. Check their supply chain credentials, their labour record, and whether they pay fair tax. Use a highlighter pen to mark each line red, amber or green. How could you change your buying behaviour to turn the reds to amber, and the ambers to green, so that all the transactions you make are votes for God and not Mammon? That way, step by step, together we can build a more Kingdom-shaped economy, one transaction at a time.
Dr Eve Poole OBE is the Author of Buying God: Consumerism and Theology
- Ready to look at your own spending habits and how you can help shape a fairer, greener world? Explore the resources on our Money Makes Change hub – including an ethical buying guide for churches.