Intersectional Talks: Sustainability and Ethical Consumption

On the 27th October, Wonda Women organised another online intersectional talk, on the topic of Ethical Consumption and Sustainability. As an honorary guest, we invited Anne Manschot, Market Director Netherlands and senior sustainability consultant at Enact.

Anne has focused her career on sustainability, specifically looking at supply chain management and labour rights. Previous to joining Enact, Anne advised on the implementation and development of auditing standards at both UTZ Certified and as consultant to the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF). She has extensive experience regarding supply chain data collection and risk management tools. Her projects include the evaluation of progress on worker’s rights at garment factories in Ethiopia and Indonesia, the establishment of a robust Chain of Custody framework for the Swedish municipalities, and human rights due diligence projects for several international retailers and brands.

Since 2014, Anne has created and facilitated workshops and trainings on a diverse range of topics ranging stakeholder engagement to traceability. She worked and studied in multiple countries and speaks Dutch, German, English, Spanish and French fluently. Anne holds a Bachelor degree in European studies and a Master degree in Media and International Conflict Studies. In 2018, she graduated with honours from the Erasmus university in Rotterdam where she researched the effectiveness of social compliance auditing. Anne is a leading expert in the Netherlands on the 'beyond social compliance' discussion. In 2020, she was selected one of the ‘Sustainable Young 100’, a list of sustainability leaders in the Netherlands.

Anne was an extremely well informed and experienced guest, and it was an honour to learn so much from her in such a short space of time! For those of you who did not have the opportunity to join us, please find below a brief summary of the issues discussed, and the things we have learnt:

  • Ethical Consumption, or Ethical branding is presented as a way to empower the individual within a system of capitalism, but Anne was quick to point out there are severe limitations on that choice. The consumer can only choose between the options that businesses offer to them. Ethical businesses are often marketed to us as a solution, but the issue is systemic.

  • The economic system we live in is one of overconsumption. In the global north we use far more resources that we have and that is the key issue. Of all the clothes being produced, one third never even end up in the stores- let alone those we buy and never use. If the world consumed like the average Dutch citizen, we would need the resources from 3,5 earths to sustain us.

  • The way the system currently works, is that it is cheaper to have this incredibly wasteful way of doing business, than to change it. There are some interesting examples of potential alternatives (see: the donut economy), but few resources to put them into practice.

  • Inevitably, the question was raised: is there such a thing as ethical consumption under capitalism? In short, Anne says, the answer is no. Businesses can be more sustainable than others, by taking better care of workers or environmental issues. But the issue is systemic, so that means real ethical consumption can only be achieved when we target the source of the issue- that is, overconsumption. Until then, we are only offering band aid solutions.

  • We all agreed that sustainable labels, like Fairtrade or organic cotton, are confusing consumers. There are over 174 labels and certificates in the market that are audited by third parties, and on top of that many companies have their own labels and certification schemes.

  • Instead of getting confused by the different logos on packages, Anne suggested to focus on consuming less. Think about what you want to consume, and ask yourself: Do I really need it? Will it last? Will I want to fit it when it breaks? And, with food – try to eat locally, and eat what is in season.

  • But remember; it’s extremely difficult to resist consumption in a consumer driven society. Understand that that is the source of the issue. Reflect on this. Challenge yourself – and your friends – to change this. Perhaps you can come up with a ‘month without buying new clothes’ with some friends, or organize a clothes swap, or decide to alter a dress into a skirt. Think how you can re-use, reduce and recycle in better ways. And, most importantly: don’t be too strict on yourself and others – small steps matter.

Thank you so much to Anne for her participation, and for everyone else who joined. As usual, and despite the added difficulties of the online format, everyone joined with an open mind, and contributed to a warm, inclusive and safe discussion.

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