Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Shop for a Cause

Christmas is still several weeks away, but given the current economic uncertainty, retailers are already predicting a downturn in holiday spending this year.

“Current financial pressures and a lack of confidence in the economy will force shoppers to be very conservative with their holiday spending,” said Rosalind Wells, Chief Economist with the US National Retail Federation. “We expect consumers to be frugal this season and less willing to splurge on discretionary items.”

The outlook for Canadian retailers isn’t much better. This is particularly true in Ontario where massive losses in the manufacturing sector mean that many families will be facing a rather bleak Christmas. Factor in the rising cost of fuel, food and other staple items, and it seems that consumers will be making their lists and checking them more than twice before opening their wallets this holiday season.

If the Thanksgiving food drive is any indicator, charities will likely suffer, too. With less disposable income, most families reduce their charitable donations and focus instead on providing for their immediate loved ones.

But what are we providing? According to the Planet Friendly website, “Christmas is supposed to be a time of peace and togetherness. But all too often, greed, haste and superficiality are the hallmarks of the season.”

As a consequence we often look for the cheapest price, without considering if the items that we purchase have been made by sweatshop labor, or by a company that has no regard for the environment. As a result, worker are often paid slave wages and exposed to harmful chemicals and dangerous working conditions all so that we can take advantage of lower prices.

This isn’t just about what we can or cannot afford. It’s about fairness. The United Nations reports that a mere 20 percent of the world’s population consumes 86 percent of the world’s resources. And since everyone who is reading this is part of that 20 percent, we have more than our credit card balance to consider.

I’m not suggesting that we completely abandon Christmas altogether. The solution is reasonable and responsible gift purchases that give many times over. How we spend our holiday cash can actually benefit worthwhile agencies that are trying to protect the Earth and her children while promoting a more equitable economic balance for everyone.

According to the Planet Friendly website, “There are plenty of gifts that do all of the above. The good news is that there are better alternatives, for those who look. Gifts that go deeper than the shiny paper wrapping. Gifts that respect our neighbors, near and far. And alternatives to gift-giving that can build friendships, community and well-being.”

One of my favorite examples of this is UNICEF. Christmas is supposed to be for the children, and yet every day 30,000 children die from preventable diseases and starvation. For more than 50 years, UNICEF has been helping children in more than 160 countries through its greeting card program. As an added bonus, UNICEF cards and envelopes are printed on recycled paper. UNICEF also has some unusual gifts to offer.

For the person on your list who really doesn’t need anything, honor them by purchasing a UNICEF Gifts of Magic and help to transform the lives of the world’s most vulnerable children by providing fresh water, vaccinations, mosquito nets and other items.

Another option is buying from companies that promote fair trade. This means that profits from goods that are produced in the developing world are channeled back into the communities where they are made. Notably companies include Bridgehead and Ten Thousand Villages.

Closer to home, Planet Friendly offers a list of suggestions and sources for gifts that promote the spirit of the season. With a little careful planning and some thoughtful ideas, we can all have a great Christmas and do our part to help protect the Earth.


For a list of greener, healthier gifts for the whole year, check out Planet Friendly

UNICEF. If you prefer to order by phone, call 1-800-567-4483.

Ten Thousand Villages has a variety of wonderful fair trade, organic edibles including various chocolates, oils, teas and coffees. Ten Thousand Villages also has a wide range of beautifully handcrafted gift items such as jewelry, personal accessories and other items perfect for Christmas giving.


Anonymous Ramona Russell said...

Thank you for writing about this cause. I created a company in memory of my 28 year old sister, Liz, who died from breast cancer. Uptown Liz (www.uptownliz.com) promotes products from companies whose proceeds go to charity. You can shop on this one-of-a-kind Web site by charitable cause or product category, knowing that every time you make a purchase you are making a difference. There are many great art, clothing, jewelry, house wares, beauty and eco-friendly products (just to name a few) that benefit charities all over the world.

November 17, 2008 10:15 PM  

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