Can we shop to end poverty?

Value Chains

Can we shop to end poverty?

Professor Ananya Roy narrates one in a series of micro-lectures from the University of California-Berkeley's Blum Center. Screenshot: GlobalPOV (youtube).

The digital world makes it easier for us to do good through everyday actions, but often these acts, done without real engagement, feed our egos more than they solve the real struggle of feeding the poor.

That's the argument made in a video by GlobalPov, an University of California-Berkeley project that has launched a campaign to encourage people to actively engage in fighting poverty -- it calls on the global community to spend conscientious thought and effort as well as money.

“There is something incredibly empowering about this idea,” said Professor Ananya Roy, Education Director at the University of California-Berkeley’s Blum Center. “That our purchasing power can aid someone on the other side of the world. And there is something incredibly arrogant about this idea. Who are we to save lives, give aid?”

But most of us don’t understand true global poverty, Roy says.

“Poverty is not the lack of a pair of shoes,” Roy says. “Poverty's not the lack of a micro donation. Poverty's not the lack of a cow. Poverty is the violence of disempowerment. Poverty is the deprivation produced by systematic exploitation. Poverty is the long history of disinvestment in the communities of the marginalized.

“How can our acts of shopping enact any type of justice in the face of such injustice?”

Giving money to sponsor a poor child or buying fair trade coffee exercises our privilege as wealthy people. The video challenges us to ask if we’re just ducking out of real engagement when we donate. People living in the “liberal enclaves of the North,” can help end poverty, but pulling an extra $5 or $10 out of your wallet won’t do the trick.

“The impacts of our consumption on poverty cannot be reduced to a product label
however tempting it is to believe that we have saved lives, empowered women, done good,” Roy argues.

“But, what we can do is understand the life history of a global commodity and advocate for changes in how it is produced, traded and consumed.”

Watch the stop-motion video (may best be viewed in Chrome):

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