I have said in this space, in a dozen different ways, that shopping will be our ruin.
And yet, as the spirit of Christmas pervades my senses and infects my brain, I want to yell, “Let’s shop! Let’s save the world!”
Of course I am saying that buying fair-trade products at retail stores like Ten Thousand Villages is the way to go.
If only the bulk of our money went to people rather corporations, we could no doubt save several villages with the money we spend at Christmastime.
Last December, Canadians spent $28.7 billion in retail stores, not including car dealerships, according to Statistics Canada.
In the Yukon and Northwest Territories, we out-shopped everyone but Albertans, spending over $1,000 per capita — $360 more than the average Canadian spent other months of the year in 2006.
That same month, the retail sector in Canada employed 96,000 more people than in January, 2006.
In fact, the retail sector in 2006 was the second largest employer in Canada, accounting for more than 12 per cent of total employment, behind only the manufacturing sector, and contributing six per cent of Canada’s GDP.
In 2006, approximately 56,000 additional workers were added in that sector, the biggest yearly increase among all industries.
Shopping clearly leads to more jobs.
Shopping activity rates are also dispensed as proof of the overall health and well-being of our nation.
Newfoundland and Labrador’s above-average spending last Christmas, for example, is a sure sign that our ‘have-not’ compatriots are doing alright.
But we all know that statistics don’t tell the whole story.
In this case, our shopping activity tells nothing of the countries from which our Christmas booty came.
There is increasing social consciousness about this.
Many of us demand to know who will be benefiting from our purchases and who and what, if anyone or anything, will be hurt.
Increasingly conscientious shoppers are on the lookout for all things fair trade, green, local, organic and/or which support a charity.
Many of us this season have paired our shopping with charitable goodwill.
By buying the latest green or red or blue gimmick in which a portion of the sale goes to save the rainforest or buy drugs for AIDS sufferers, we feel we are making a difference.
Retailers are aware of this and are increasingly marketing their wares in ways that appease our guilty consciences.
On the flip side, charities are using major brands to sell their cause.
Bono’s RED campaign is one of these. Last year, I wrote in support of the rock star’s new AIDS charity.
“Who cares if in fact it takes a staff of 5,000 or more to come up with Bono’s brilliant PR stunts?” I wrote in reference to Bono’s success in choreographing an extra $2 billion in aid for Africa from the US president.
But Red’s glaring lack of success has me wondering if Bono’s obvious penchant for stylish sunglasses and leather pants hasn’t gotten confused with his penchant for saving the world.
It has been rumoured that hundreds of million of dollars have been spent marketing Red iPods, Red underpants from Gap, “Emporio Armani Julia Roberts” Red bracelets, Red Motorola cellphones and Red American Express cards.
And how much has Red been able to send to The Global Fund, which supports AIDS victims in Africa? About $30 million, according to the Red website.
In response to Red’s ridiculously brand-heavy scheme to raise money for AIDS, an organization called Buy Less Crap http://www.buylesscrap.org has emerged.
Despite its irreverent name, the organization is a serious attempt at revealing the flaws in Bono’s charity. A major flaw is that the public has no idea what retailers are spending on advertising. The organization says Red is losing its grasp on the consumer because its lack of transparency.
“Let the consumer know exactly what has been spent, by whom, and on what,” it says in an open letter to Red CEO Bobby Shriver.
Buy Less Crap also encourages people to skip the middle shopping and simply donate to The Global Fund.
Among internet chat groups discussing Red, there is much distaste for the idea that retailers are profiting from AIDS and that these red items are more fashion statements and status symbols than anything else.
In other words, contrary to Bono’s entire philosophy, the end doesn’t justify the means.
Gap donates 50 per cent of sales of its Red products; Armani donates 40 per cent; American Express donates one per cent of customer spending on Red cards.
Advertising Age “http://people.monstersandcritics.com/news/article_1274927.php/Bonos_RED_rage” magazine claimed Red had raised just $18 million in its first year for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS in Africa, while The Gap, Apple and Motorola spent an estimated $100 million on marketing.
Bono’s response has been to dismiss the figures, arguing Red itself spends nothing on marketing.
Retailers should be free to do what they want, he says, as long as the AIDS situation in Africa is being promoted and dollars are reaching AIDS victims.
It’s a tough one, for sure.
Can we save the world by shopping at Gap? Should we?
Juliann Fraser is a writer living in Whitehorse.