When I was little, there was an advertisement on the TV for a Ronseal product. As the gentleman explained what the product was for, he concluded with his, now famous, punchline: ‘Ronseal; It does exactly what it says on the tin’.
As a child, while I was impressed by his punchy delivery and cavalier attitude to varnishing his fence, I also thought the ad was pointless. You see, in my little, naive head, everything did exactly what it said on its proverbial tin, I mean, why else would it actually say it on the tin? As a child we assume everything we hear is the truth. We also assume, courtesy of many a TV courtroom drama, that its the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. How wrong was I…
Just to point out, I completely understand that I live in a first-world, capitalist environment, one where marketing products and selling them to me has become a multi-million euro industry. An industry intent on invading my every waking moment from billboards, to buses, TV and magazines etc. but every now and then I must admit I find the whole thing exhausting, but there are certain aspects of the process I also find completely disingenuous and these are the ones I’m going to talk about today..
Where I find particular discomfort personally isn’t actually with the corporate products sales-pitch, but actually with the peripheral information available in relation to the product, such as its origins, essence, philosophy etc. There are numerous organisations and campaigns that exist to help me try and be an ethical consumer, which I really want to be, but for every one of those that exists, the ‘corporates’ find way of manipulating the system, making what should be clear, obvious choices, become shrouded in confusion and semantics. Over the years I’ve come across plenty of these ‘misdirections’, but here are the three that bother me most. Maybe its just me and I’m the only one who didn’t know these things, but just in case you didn’t either…
1. Animal Cruelty
So I am completely against animal cruelty in all forms. On the spectrum, I imagine I fall between not brave enough to be veggie but vehemently anti-fur. A few years back while discussing the issue a friend of mine told me about a website called Uncaged, (website here), which has since closed down. This Website, Uncaged, claimed at the time to openly name and support companies who were against animal testing, coincidentally and conveniently also highlighting the organisations who did use animal testing, but by omission. It so happened that week I had bought a new Original Source product. The bottle made great claims about ‘leaves’, ‘sunrises’ and ‘lemons’ and so forth and for whatever reason, probably due to the nature lingo, I assumed they would be the sort of product that wouldn’t test on animals so I checked them out in the database. I was wrong.
I thought maybe the site wasn’t working so I tried the Body Shop, I mean its the BODY SHOP they talk about whales and tigers, definitely animal friendly right; also wrong. The Body Shop, at that time, had recently been sold to L’Oreal, and L’Oreal don’t have a no-animal-cruelty policy. They have been re-instated now, but at that moment I was suddenly starting to realize that things were not quite as simple as they seemed.
As I read on, by this point feeling like my entire life had been a lie, I began to understand the sheer amount of legalities companies use to get around us, the public, their customers. For example, some products claim not to test on animals, what they mean is they don’t test unfinished products on animals, but they can be quite happy testing elements and/or ingredients of products on animals, or purchasing from other companies who do.
When I think of animal testing its hard not to conjure cute images of bunnies wearing lipstick, but a lot of the testing is more insidious than that. Essentially there are four categories of animal testing:
- Absolutely no part or element of the product has been or will be tested on animals, (this is obviously the rarest one and the one most consumers are aiming for)
- No ingredients will be used past a certain cut-off date, so the company can use older products that were tested on animals in the past but will not encourage up to date/current testing, (this one is rare due to the constant competition for products to ‘new’ and ‘improve’)
- They test on parts of the ingredients of the product or purchase from companies who test on animals
- They straight out test their products on animals
What people don’t realize, well I certainly didn’t, was how many littler companies were owned by huge multinationals like P&G Cussons and L’Oreal; making the ethos of the smaller company essentially null. In fact many of the larger conglomerates purposefully buy up brands with good ethical reputations, ironically immediately nullifying their very essence
Other issues include the fact that the US and Russia in some cases actually require proof of the testing of products before they will allow sale of a product so the companies must use animal testing as they have no other way of meeting the legal requirements. Also there is currently no one, single global organization overseeing any changes or drive in anti-animal-testing policy, so anything that gets approved in Europe may not be in the US and vice-verse.
The closest there is to any movement at the moment is Go Cruelty Free (here). Their logo is the ‘Leaping bunny’ which is a globally accepted sign of cruelty free products, (explanation here). The Bunny is the generally accepted mascot of anti-animal cruelty campaigns, but the other confusion is that there are different type of bunnies representing different things. If you are interested in figuring it all out I found this blog, where the lady very simply outlines the different types of bunnies and what they mean when you see them on your products.
Conclusion: ‘Not tested on animals’, doesn’t actually mean that no animals were tested on in order to get the finished product to you.
2. Guaranteed Irish
I always thought, the Guaranteed Irish symbol is the Government ensured way of proving to customers that the relevant product is in fact a product of Ireland and buy purchasing these products I was helping to keep jobs and money in Ireland. Righto? Wrongo!
First of all G.I. is a privately owned company, and not as I, (again wrongly) thought, a State body or organisation. It was originally established as a state body in the 1970’s but became privately owned in the 1990s due to the (quite correct) assumption it was seen as ‘anti-European’. Being Ireland just to be sure, we waited until Europe actually took us to court on the matter before we gave in, closed it down as a State body and then immediately resurrected it as a private company. Totes legit (Details on that court case are here)
Secondly I learned, the actual product does absolutely not have to be produced or sourced in Ireland to be deemed G.I. In order to qualify, there needs to be a proportion of the ‘process’ completed in Ireland. The proportion percentage I’ve managed to find online, (but can’t verify anywhere I’ll admit despite asking), is that a minimum of 50% of the product, or its production systems must be done in Ireland. So tea for example isn’t grown in Ireland, but the packaging is done in Ireland, hence GI approval. Once you’ve applied, and paid your fee, the system works on an honour system of sorts where you agree to ensure the Ireland ‘bit’ is a minimum of 50% of the end-product.
The thing that really bothers me is that, in my opinion the E.C.J., (Europe people), were right back in 1982; we are either in Europe and allow the free flow of goods and service BOTH in and out of the country, or we’re not. Trying to highlight that a product is Irish, particularly ironically when it is in fact not necessarily Irish, is anti-European and shouldn’t, in my opinion, be allowed by the Government. Particularly when you consider how many European grants go into producing those goods which are kind-of-but-not-really-made-in-Ireland, my own swing on the Guaranteed Irish brand. Admittedly not as catchy, but far more accurate.
Conclusion: Guaranteed Irish does absolutely not mean the thing in your hand is Irish. Not even a little bit. Think on it, when was the last time you saw a tea plantation in Cork?
3: Fair Trade
Fair Trade actually pisses me off the most. So the assumption here is; I am purchasing this sweet chocolatey/coffee goodness in an ethical manner that means some farmer is being treated with a little more dignity in exchange for me to live out my first-world lifestyle at its finest; win-win situation. Right? So, so wrong….
There are hoops of blogs on this all over the internet, I’ve referenced a few in this post but a simple google search will do it, and they all point to the same basic flaws with the system.What I imagine/hope started off as a well intentioned attempt to use the power of numbers to secure a reasonable quality of life for these farmers, has morphed into a multinational operation, a hugely profitable one, but not necessarily for the people at the bottom of the chain, the very people the movement was set up to assist.
The first of the issues with the system is the fact that there is very little monitoring the farmers end. As you can imagine, with farmers literally based all over the world it would be a huge task to oversee and monitor all of them, essentially next to impossible, but in the meantime claims of corruption are rife. There seems to be a complete lack of transparency in regard to who actually gets the Fairtrade seal on-the-ground and claims of corruption are rampant, see here for more info. Also there are claims that there is a Fair Trade ‘black market’ of sorts, where gangs have counterfeit documents and hire farmers at even less than their original minimum wage in order to work the crops and make the money. More info here
Secondly the Fairtrade brand is managed by the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation (F.L.O.) and they manage the system. In order to sell their Fairtrade products a retailer must pay them commission on every product sold. Just to point out Fairtrade products aren’t physically obtained differently i.e. its not a different coffee bean, its just the sale process is managed differently. This commission then pushes up the price of the product locally making Fair Trade products more expensive, but the growers receive the same amount, for the exact same product. So proportionately the farmer receives LESS of the sale value of the product than he would have if he had avoided the F.L.O. Cracked have a good article on this available here.
Finally, there is no limit for how much Fairtrade product you have to use in order to use the Fairtrade logo. So for large retailers they could possibly buy literally one bag of coffee beans off a Fairtrade farmer and as many as they want from his non-Fairtrade friend up-the-road and mix them in together and they have the right to put Fair Trade on all of their products, or they may use Fair Trade in one product but no other products and they can still label them all as Fair Trade. See here for more.
Conclusion: Fair Trade; really fair for the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation, not so fair for consumer, and really, really not fair for the farmers.
So there we have it. Maybe its just me and I’m the only one who didn’t know these things but I would hazard theres still plenty more I have yet to discover. If you know of any I’ve missed please feel free to comment