Caveat Emptor

By Chris Chatteris


‘Let the buyer beware’. I recently picked up a fluorescent tube in a hardware shop which was made in Russia. With images of Putin’s artillery ruthlessly flattening Ukrainian towns, I simply couldn’t bring myself to buy it. The moment took me back to the eighties when I was a student overseas when we boycotted Outspan oranges.


The Latin means, (loosely), watch out, or you might get ripped off! The Germans now know the truth of it in a big way. They have been trapped into buying billions of Euros of Russian gas, thus funding Putin’s war machine. The risk of making its economy dependent on cheap Russian fossil fuel is now horribly clear to them.


The world’s dependence on Saudi Arabian oil was recently underlined by President Biden’s humiliating, cap in hand visit to Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mahommed bin Salman, to beg him to increase oil production in order to bring down the price of petrol in the USA.


How to respond? One of the ways in which Christians can engage in non-violent resistance is in our consumer choices. So, when we buy a cellphone, we can do some homework beforehand to check whether the way in which it is produced exploits the poor or harms the environment.


The problem is that powerful and oppressive states are legion and many of them sell consumer goods and raw materials such as oil. In South Africa one notices a certain amount of anger at the political and economic domination of the United States. And yet most South Africans cheerfully buy Cokes, Big Macs, Kentucky Fried and Apple phones. We also listen to American popular music and follow their celebs.


Then there is the growing elephant in the room which is China. Chinese goods are everywhere and it’s almost impossible to avoid buying them today. But the Chinese state has brutally occupied and colonised Tibet and placed around a million Muslims, the Uyghurs, in a vast system of camps in which this vulnerable minority is controlled by violence and terror. Do we think of these people when shopping around for the cheapest item in the store? For do Chinese goods, some apparently produced by Uygur forced labour, not also have metaphorical blood on them like the Outspan oranges of the apartheid state?


The point about the German/Russian example is that, over the long term, it is not even in our own interests to depend on goods originating in regimes which would as happily remove our rights as pocket our money. Christians must go further than their own interests. We must first become more aware of the injustices being perpetrated by the economically and politically dominant regimes in our world. Then we must make well-discerned consumer choices which respond to the ‘cry of the poor and the cry of the earth’.

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