Letter: The philosophy of consumerism

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The Independent Online
Sir: David Nicholson-Lord's article ('Consumerism with a shrunken vision', 25 May) raises some interesting questions about the role and activities of the established consumer movement in the UK. As an organisation which spends so much of its time criticising the operation of other institutions, it would be churlish of the National Consumer Council (NCC) to take umbrage at those who question our role. However, there are some points we do wish to answer.

The role of the NCC is to be partisan in favour of UK consumers - especially disadvantaged consumers. We were set up to balance the views of other special interest groups, which can include anything from the car industry to the environmental lobby.

The National Consumer Council does not see the consumer as a 'buying unit' or 'a foot soldier in the onward march of affluence'. Consumers are not necessarily people with money to spend. Consumerism is as much about ensuring that people can afford to heat their homes or buy an adequate diet. This is a world away from a 'philosophy of consumption'.

On the issue of international trade liberalisation, reducing protectionist trade policies inevitably leads to more choice and lower prices for Western consumers. It is not true to say that it leads also to 'mean sweatshops and starvation wages in the Third World'. For example, a report published by the International Organisation of Consumer Unions on the developing textile industry in Bangladesh showed that, although pay and conditions were poor by Western standards, employment in the industry significantly increased the standard of living of its workers. The imposition by the West of the Multi-Fibre Arrangement (MFA) on exports of textiles from Bangladesh in 1985 caused the closure of two-thirds of all textile factories, putting 150,000 people out of work. The MFA adds an estimated 5 per cent to the cost of clothes in the UK.

Yours faithfully,

RUTH EVANS

Director

National Consumer Council

London, SW1

25 May

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