Anorak | There’s nothing “ethical” about these patronising Christmas gifts

There’s nothing “ethical” about these patronising Christmas gifts

by | 22nd, December 2011

SO-CALLED “ethical Christmas gifts” have become a familiar feature of the holiday season. Every year, charities like Oxfam, Christian Aid and World Vision encourage us to give up presents in favour of certificates for things like goats, dung, condoms and hygiene instruction for people in the developing world.

It is customary for these initiatives to adopt a patronising tone, both towards Western consumers, who are encouraged to have a guilt-free shopping experience, and towards Third World recipients, who are encouraged to smile and be grateful for the paltry presents charities bestow on them. Just take a look at this video by Oxfam. It explains to shoppers how the charity’s scheme, Oxfam Unwrapped, works as if they were five-year-olds.

Ethical gift schemes tap into the anti-consumption vogue in the West, whilst perpetuating the idea that people in the developing world should gladly accept small-scale solutions that may help them cope with poverty, but not escape it. In the West, a familiar dilemma for shoppers is what to buy for a man or woman who has everything, but when it comes to the developing world the message is that beggars can’t be choosers.

The grandiose claims made my charities in relation to ethical gifts which are said to be life-changing and life-saving far from match their actual worth. For instance, Action Aid offers “gifts that change lives” including a package containing a pick axe, hoe and shovel for two families. The World Vision gift catalogue includes a shared sewing machine , which the charity claims “lifts a woman out of poverty”. Christian Aid sends cans of worms to women in India to help them grow crops and consequently feed their families and get cash from selling surplus produce.

Yet few farmers in the West would want to till their land with a hoe, few women would regard sharing a sewing machine as en empowering or enriching experience, few land owners would see worms as a route to wealth. Just because poor people have very little, that doesn’t mean they should be prepared to accept lifestyles that we in the West would deem unbearable.

It seems that for every year that passes charities come up with even more patronising marketing ploys and gift tags. Oxfam is particularly adept at this. Last year, for instance, it offered the “gift of dung”, a supply of

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Posted: 22nd, December 2011 | In: Key Posts, News Comment (1) | Follow the Comments on our RSS feed: RSS 2.0 | TrackBack | Permalink