One of our favorite books is Why the Village Movement by Gandhian philosopher and economist J. C. Kumarappa. We turn to it again and again to be reminded of core principles for keeping economic transactions local.
Kumarappa’s works are now out of print, but we are lucky to have copies here at the Schumacher Center Library. You might find them through a used book search at your independent neighborhood bookstore.
As you are planning your holiday shopping, we share the following excerpt from his chapter on “The Role of Women” written in 1936 and imagining the women of rural villages of India.
Often buyers are only concerned with satisfying their own requirements as near as possible and as cheaply as they can. This way of going about the business is to shirk one’s duties. What are the duties of an effective consumer or buyer? When buying an article of everyday use one has to take account of the full repercussions of one’s transaction.
1) One should know where the article comes from,
2) Who makes the article?
3) Under what conditions do the workers live and work?
4) What proportions of the final price do they get as wages?
5) How is the rest of the money distributed?
6) How is the article produced?
7) How does the industry fit into the national economy?
8) What relation has it to the other nations?
If the buyer has to make her influence felt, the further afield she goes for her goods, the less will be the power of her influence at such distance, the less the chances of her information on various points raised being accurate, and the less will be her personal interest. If the goods come from a source which may be tainted with exploitation, either of sweat labor or of the political, financial or economic hold over other nations, or classes, or races, then the buyer of such goods will be a party to such exploitation, just as a person who buys stolen articles from a “chore bazar” creates a market for stolen goods and thus will be encouraging the art of stealing. Therefore, any one who buys goods indiscriminately is not discharging her full responsibility when the sole criterion of her buying is merely the low price or the good quality of the goods. Hence, we should buy goods only from sources from which full information is readily available and which source can be brought under our influence; otherwise we shall have to shoulder a share of the blame for sweat labour, political slavery, or economic stranglehold. We cannot absolve ourselves of the all blame by merely pleading ignorance in regard to the source.
If the raw materials for making cocoa are obtained from plantations on the West coast of Africa which use some form of forced native labour, are carried by vessels on sea routes monopolised or controlled by violence, manufactured in England with sweated labour and brought to India under favorable customs duties enforced by political power, then a buyer of a tin of cocoa patronises the forced labour conditions in the West coast of Africa, utilizes the navy and so partakes in violence, gains by the low wages or bad conditions of the workers in England and takes advantage of the political subjection of India. All this responsibility and more also is put into a little tin of cocoa!
Are we prepared to shoulder this grave responsibility and pander to our palate or shall we content ourselves with a cup of nutritious milk drawn from a well-kept cow at our door? These considerations are not far-fetched but actual. Anyone who looks on life seriously and as a trustee cannot afford to ignore these far reaching consequences of her actions.