Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Maybe a new, possibly dangerous perspective?

So I may not have a huge follower base, but I've had some thoughts in my head. I know that I primarily use this blog to post my photography, but my recent trip to Kenya has got me thinking about what some American companies have been up to. Some companies I'm starting to look into include TOMS Shoes and Coca-Cola.
Let me be clear before I continue. I have nothing against the Coca-Cola Company and I respect them and the jobs that the company has created. I've also never been unsatisfied with their products, as I like and purchase drinks such as Diet Coke and Sprite. Recently, I went on a Baylor University sponsored mission to Nairobi, Kenya where I spent time working with and getting to know women who not only lived in slums, but were also HIV+. I went into a house with my team and several women to eat lunch, and I was offered a coke by one of the women. Everyone in the room was offered a glass bottle of coke. I quickly realized how much of a sacrifice this was for her, since her income was small and expenses were high. Mainly, I want to know what the Coca-Cola Company can do to invest in the people living in slums who are investing in Coke. These people don't ask for all of the luxuries we live with in our American bubble, but they need access to clean water, and they need a sewer system to promote sanitation. Secondly, all too often we take advantage of the free education we receive in America. Most of the children I saw and people I spoke to wanted to learn but didn't have the money to pay their school fees. To make an investment in improved sanitation in slums like Kibera (in which atleast one million people live) and create schools for the children living slums would be pennies compared to the $6 billion in profit Coca-Cola brings in. The company alone is worth almost $123 billion. 1 I also want to make it clear that it is not a bad thing that the Coca-Cola Company brings in the amount of profit that it does, and that I am proud to live in a country that allows the opportunity for companies to be so incredibly successful. I simply want to ask companies like Coca-Cola, what else can you do?
My second point involves TOMS shoes. Like many consumers, I was excited by the One for One Campaign, and felt good about helping a child in need somewhere in the world by providing them a pair of shoes (I own two pairs of TOMS). I am not necessarily against the idea of giving away shoes to needy children, but I do fear that we use that as "feel-good" investment. We buy the shoes and have satisfied our need as an individual to make a difference, but here is the problem, how much is that really doing to change the world? Is TOMS Shoes using people in need as a marketing scheme to sell a product so that they earn profit? Are shoes the immediate need of people living in poverty? I'm not going to sit here and say that I have all the creative and productive solutions to these questions or that they are even the only questions to ask, but I want to challenge people (myself included) to re-evaluate the needs of the world and re-evaluate what I am doing to try and meet those needs. I use TOMS Shoes as my example because while I was walking through some of the slums in Nairobi, I never saw a single pair of TOMS shoes. I also quickly came to realize that most of the people had shoes, and shoes weren't a real need of any of the people in the slums we visited. Again, the biggest need of these people is sanitation and an education so these people have a chance to get out of the conditions they are living in and make a life for themselves and future generations. TOMS also uses education as a platform for giving shoes, saying that shoes are a part of the uniform and when children can't afford the shoes, they aren't allowed at school. This may be true, but a lot of the problem is that the parents of these children just cannot afford the fees to even go to school. Why not provide funding for schools so the children can attend? If you are buying TOMS Shoes because you want to make a difference in the world, then you are most likely wasting your money, because you need to understand that TOMS Shoes is a for-profit company and their simple canvas shoe cannot be very expensive to make. There is a good chance that they are not only profiting off of the pair that you buy to wear personally, but they are also profiting off of the pair that they give away. I'm not against capitalism and earning a profit, but again, using the needs of those living in poverty to make a profit seems a little wrong. If you really want to make a difference for the people who are living in poverty or bad circumstances, go out and donate money to a local charity or donate your time to spend with inner city children. Buy the products of women of the Kianga Project so they can make an income and provide for their children or donate to projects like charity:water or Living Water to help provide clean water to help prevent the spread of disease. Go to a developing country and see the poverty for yourself if you have the funding and the time, it will change your life. If you want to wear TOMS just because you like them as a fashion statement, love them and wear them proudly as part of your style. If you want to wear them as your contribution to solving global poverty, then you probably aren't helping much by buying TOMS.

Poor sanitation breeds disease and exploitation in Kenya's slums

Just some thoughts.

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