Colonialism x Cash by Uma Mishra, executive director, Women’s March Global
It’s a familiar story, tomorrow’s your sister’s birthday and you still haven’t gotten anything for her! In desperation, you pop into your local [insert any high street fashion shop] and in 20 minutes you’re out and on budget – an on trend sweater in your sister’s favorite color and a set of lip glosses with funny sayings on the tube. Mission accomplished!
As the high of successful gift giving wears off a sneaking thought creeps back in…where does this stuff come from? How *was* that cardi only 19.99?
Let’s back up.
We all learned about colonialism in school. Colonialism is the practice of one country exerting military and political control over another country. There are two main kinds: settler colonialism, where people from one colonising country move to the colonised country; and extractive colonialism, where the colonising country uses its
military and political domination to extract money, resources, and labor (see: the Atlantic Slave Trade) from the colonised country. This had serious long-term effects on colonised countries’ economies. Acemoğlu and Robinson report that one third of today’s global income inequality can be attributed to the impact of European colonialism. As they say — a big deal.
Yeah, but what does this have to do with my sister’s new sweater?
Extractive colonialism continues today, in the form of fast fashion economies. Large, multinational corporations – usually based in the United States and Europe – extract labour and resources from these formerly colonised countries to lower their bottom line. This largely affects women. 80% of workers in the garment industry are women and girls and they suffer from low wages and unsafe working conditions.
Our hard-earned cash.
This holiday season (and, really, any gift-giving time!) let’s think about ways we can lessen our support for exploitative practices. It’s true that to eliminate these practices will take governmental regulation and heaps of effort, but consumer voice is an important starting place!
Buy second hand from your local thrift shop and support other local businesses. Break out your crafts and make your friend a face scrub, a candle, or even her own piece of art! Or, think ‘experiences’ and invite your sister over for a homemade dinner and a marathon of your favorite childhood movies (blanket fort included!). There are lots of ways to celebrate!