consumerism health shopping

Shopping is not a solution – buy less, give more

So say the creators of Buy (Less) Crap, a response to the (RED) charitable consumer initiative.

“The mission of Buy Less on an individual level is to provide a means for people to donate directly to charity, to remind them that this is the most efficient way to support a cause, and to inspire less consumption overall.”

The (Product) RED series includes American Express credit cards, GAP clothing, special edition ipods and copies of Windows, all of which give a small and undeclared percentage to combat AIDS in Africa.

The range has drawn a fair amount of criticism, not least when it emerged that by the end of its first year of operation it (the companies involved) had spent an estimated $100 million on advertising and given just $18 million to the Global Fund.

I’m very uncomfortable with the idea that you can express your concern through consumption, especially given the conspicuous nature of the (RED) offerings. I found myself rather stunned by the advert here when it came out, at the idea that your credit card would be saving lives somehow. The fact that it portrayed a world famous model and a nameless Masai is telling – the Africans remain unknown here, the horrific realities of AIDS a world away and mediated to us through shiny products and famous people.

It’s been around for a little while now and the hype has died down,  but I was reminded of it today and I thought I’d give Buy (Less) Crap a shout. In return, they’d like to invite you to “donate directly to the (RED) campaign’s beneficiary the Global Fund… without consuming.”

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  1. We read your post “Shopping is not a solution ¬ buy less, give more” and wanted to clarify some significant inaccuracies in your piece. In the second paragraph you mention that (RED) partners “give a small and undeclared percentage to combat AIDS in Africa.” Our partners do disclose the percentage that they contribute. For example, Gap contributes 50% of profits from the sale of (PRODUCT) RED items, while Emporio Armani contributes 40% and Converse directs between 5-15% of net wholesale sales directly to the Global Fund to help eliminate AIDS in Africa. All of this information is available on our web site in the partner sections,

    In the third paragraph you incorrectly state that (RED) had spent $100 million on marketing while only generating $25 million for the Global Fund in year one. This is completely inaccurate. (RED)’s marketing comes from the existing marketing budgets of our partners, not from our organization.
    These are marketing dollars that would have otherwise been spent on selling products that give nothing back — instead, we’ve been able to re-direct those dollars to promote products that generate money to buy AIDS medicine
    in Africa. In addition, (RED) products have now generated more than $125
    million for the Global Fund and 100% of this money goes to fund grants in Africa — no overhead, or marketing money, is taken out of this total.

    (RED) was created to engage business and consumer power in the fight against AIDS in Africa and this new model has proven successful in engaging the private sector. Before (RED), the single largest private sector contribution to the Global Fund was $1 million dollars — in just three years we’ve increased that to $125 million. These funds translate directly to providing antiretroviral treatment and other support in Ghana, Swaziland, Lesotho and Rwanda.

    We’re aware that (RED) is not the ONLY solution — it is just part of the solution. We work alongside non-profits, governments and NGOs in helping to address AIDS in Africa. This model is designed to give consumers a choice when they’re out shopping. If they are going to buy a t-shirt, cup of coffee, iPod or tennis shoes, they can buy (RED) — at no extra cost — and the company will contribute some of their profits. It is a beautiful way to intersect a process that occurs everyday and re-direct some of the energy to help save lives.

    As more companies join the (RED) family, the contributions, and the awareness about HIV and AIDS, will continue to grow and therefore help saves thousands of lives of individuals in Africa that would otherwise be lost.

    Susan Smith Ellis, CEO, (RED)

  2. Hi Julia and Susan, thanks for taking the time to read the piece and respond – much appreciated, and apologies for any inaccuracies. I’m aware that advertising is through individual companies and not through (RED), so I’ve clarified that.

    I have to admit that (RED) is a neat idea, and is releasing money from corporate donations in an ongoing way. The problem is that consumption is not a benign everyday process.

    According to Global Cool, we throw away 900,000 tonnes of clothing every year in the UK. As that rots down in landfill, that’s 8 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. That’s to say nothing of the unsustainable way that cotton is grown, or the respiratory diseases that result for the third world cotton-pickers.

    Likewise we replace our gadgets far too often, and much electronic waste is dismantled with no health and safety regulations, back in the third world.

    UK shoppers have twice as much personal debt as the average European, a grand £33,000 for every adult, up from £17,000 in 2000.

    So my problem is not with (RED) per se, but with consumerism. (RED) has tied the opportunity to do good with something that on many levels is doing harm, and is ultimately unsustainable. That’s the paradox at the heart of the (RED) idea.

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