Turbulent South Africa: can consumers help achieve social good?
Posted by
Al Mackay at 08:00

Two industries have erupted in violence in the past few months. In both industries, disillusionment and anger have set in at the slow pace of change for workers as South Africa struggles to overcome its legacy as an economy built on cheap labour to one of shared prosperity. But there is a crucial difference between the two industries in question: one has an interface with consumers, the other does not. Consumers have very little influence over mining, but wine-making on the other hand, lives, breathes and survives through brands. And it is through these brands that citizens and consumers can exert our influence on the industry.

Consumer-facing industries are democratic. The brands that rise and fall are decided by people like you and me, every day, in billions of little purchase decisions made in supermarkets, spaza shops and shopping centres. It is the power of our collective decisions which gives rise to the notion that the 'consumer is king'.

Why do we pay so little attention to this power that we wield over consumer-facing industries? Our purchase decisions can change the way industries operate. If it bothers us that farmworkers earn so little (as it should), we should be buying in a way that rewards the farms that treat their workers well. For example, do we insist on buying only Fairtrade-certified wine? Do we research our favourite wine labels, see how they treat their farmworkers, and eliminate and prioritise what we buy accordingly?

We have conscious consumption guides for sustainable fishing and slavery-free global brands. Isn't it time we built a local database for good? We may feel powerless to change the South African mining industry. But as soon as we are armed with brands and choice, we can change everything. Make your purchase decisions count. 

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