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Shopping for peace

The big shopping splurge of the year is upon us. Are we buying war and injustice for gifts and ourselves? It is time to consider the implications of our shopping habits. Around the world people are speaking though their wallets: boycotts and ethical buying are powerful tools.

First of all, we can support international boycotts of corporations embedded in war and oppression. The global boycott of corporations that support the war in Iraq was launched in 2004 at the World Social Forum in Mumbai, by European, Asian and North American activists. They choose six companies whose products are available to consumers everywhere and can be easily boycotted as many of them are inessential and there are alternatives to those that aren't.

  • McDonald's - well, enough said! We all can find better food than that!
  • Coca Cola and PepsiCo, not only their famous sticky sweet beverages, but fruit drinks, bottled and other products - we live better without them. Lots of alternatives - local organic juices, fair trade coffee, tea and cocoa.
  • Altria is the parent company of Phillip Morris tobacco products and Kraft food. Try to quit smoking or switch brands. Buy local cheese [or go vegan! - ed] and make our own salad dressings. See www.altria.com for all its products.
  • Chevron/Texaco and Exxon/Mobil/Esso are the giants that oil wars are all about. We can look for co-op brands and small national brands to substitute, knowing that we must reduce our consumption of all petroleum products, including heating fuel, plastics and petrol. Walk, cycle, support public transit and share car travel if it is a necessity. Support wind and solar power. See www.boycottbush.org.

We need to be conscious of our responsibility to consume less; to buy mindfully at all times. Boycotts are an easy and safe action for individuals. Boycotts helped defeat South Africa's apartheid government. Boycotts combined with ethical purchasing are even more powerful when institutions and communities exercise them. Many universities are removing Coca Cola from their campuses. It is not just war that Coke and other companies support and push; they also have appalling human rights, labour and environmental practices. See www.killercoke.org.

Churches, pension funds, credit unions, cooperatives, and governments at all levels, can change their suppliers and also divest from unethical, war-supporting corporations. As activists we can make boycotts and ethical purchasing more effective by working within our own communities and groups.

Most of these products provide only a brief instant of pleasure. Is the death of an Iraqi child, an Afghan woman, an Indian peasant or a Colombian worker worth that gratification? Think before you buy!

Theresa Wolfwood is coordinator of the Boycott Bush Campaign in Canada.