A day with Sirina
5:30 in the morning, "Wake up, kids," their mother shouts. She has to repeat herself several times, because they are tired and have difficulty waking up. Sirina and her sister wash at the public water hole in front of the tin shack in which they live with their family, before starting the 30 minute walk to work. They do not have breakfast.
Sirina, who is nine years old, has already been working in the Indian cotton fields for one year. She spends nine to fourteen hours in the scorching heat, in the mist of smelly and toxic pesticides. Headaches, disorientation and attacks of weakness are the consequences, and part of her daily life.
About 210 million of the 1.5 billion children on earth between the ages of 5 and 14 work. Many work so hard from an early age on, that they suffer permanent damage because their bodies are still growing and cannot cope with the stress.
Profit at all costs
I am addressing a subject that most of us are already familiar with, but yet do not take action. In the name of profit, there is a great lack of ethics and respect for human beings. And alas, consciously or unconsciously, we all play the game, through our purchases, of supporting the food-, pharmaceutical-, textile- and other industries.
Take, for example, the exploitation of children by big brands, manufacturing shoes and clothes in third world countries. These are well known facts, yet they do not prevent us from continuing to buy these products. It is true that we need shoes and clothes, but at the cost of how much injustice and suffering? I see here a huge deficit on the part of our rulers, whose primary responsibility and duty it is to guide and set standards on behalf of, and for the good of, all citizens.
It seems like ethics and politics are incompatible, and yet there is a way. History shows several examples of people whose political ethics were very noble. For example, in France, Simone Veil, a mother and philosopher, who was very attached to life and respect for human values with a moral, intellectual and political responsibility.
"In the end, it's always the vulnerable who are supposed to act morally, while the powerful are excused for their actions."
In Helmut Schmidt, Germany found a leader who until his last breath stuck to common sense and helping people in a healthy way. Even in 2010, at the age of 91, he was considered by 75% of the Germans as a moral authority, far ahead of other German public figures.
"It is true that a politician cannot simultaneously deliver a great philosophy at the time of his action or when he has to explain and justify his actions. But if he acts without a philosophical-ethical basis, he risks making mistakes. He risks falling into opportunism. He is even in danger of becoming a charlatan."
The current Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern sets an admirable example. With her, we are seeing the changes the planet needs. She proved herself a strong leader, both in the way she managed the Covid-19 crisis, and in her empathy for the oppressed.
"Political leaders can be both empathetic and strong."
European and global solidarity on the basis of ethics must be established for the good of all. I salute the courage and determination of some politicians and other people, by becoming active in their functions or by demonstrating what does not work, in the interest of the common good.
Common good is big business
The idea of having patents on things as natural as rooibos (a South African plant), black cumin (Nigella sativa) or even on breast milk astounds me! Yes, it's true: Nestlé has applied for several patents on breast milk. It's perverse really. Taking advantage of nature (plants, seeds or leaves) to the detriment of human beings is far from being ethical.
This is also called Biopiracy: an illegitimate appropriation and commodification of biological resources and traditional knowledge of rural or indigenous peoples. It is about making profit from freely available natural products by copying the techniques of local people who have been using them in their daily lives to eat or heal themselves for generations. Biopirates are mainly pharmaceutical, food or cosmetic companies.
Air, water and everything produced by nature is part of the heritage of the earth and therefore of all its inhabitants. How is it possible that food or other industry magnates can legally obtain patents on it? It is incomprehensible to me.
Refusal to purchase as an immediate action
While waiting for our political leaders to take action at the highest level, we have to take action individually at the grassroots level. Ethics should therefore manifest itself in our daily lives through daily reflections on the values that guide us and motivate our actions. By showing more respect for ourselves and for our environment.
Our food with all the pesticides, additives, artificial colourings and flavourings, preservatives and other substances makes us more and more sick. Products continue to be loaded with sugar or poorly hidden derivatives! ("Animal studies have convincingly proven that artificial sweeteners cause weight gain, brain tumors, bladder cancer and many other health hazards. Some kind of health related side effects including carcinogenicity are also noted in humans.").
Click here for more information on sweeteners and their risks.
We may feel like Davids versus Goliaths. They have the best lawyers and business advisors and enough money to buy false claims, but we are their customers. What would happen if a majority of the population became fully aware of this state of affairs, and took appropriate action? What if a significant number of people decided not to buy all these unfair products any more?
I'm sure that would quickly lead to reflection and changes on the part of the industry.
"Sound ethics constitute good business for all, in the long run."
We have the choice and the purchasing power, let's take advantage of it. To do this we simply have to leave our comfort zone for a while (I know, that's easier said than done!). Give up products that are dear to us, because we love them and we think we can't live without them (force of habit).
To stick it out until there is a reconsideration and the industry understands that they can still make a profit while producing ethical products. We have already experienced this loss of our comfort zone for several months during the pandemic, and we have successfully overcome this period.
At the same time, ethically produced alternatives that exist already would continue to produce more and at a better price. Because it is clear that most of us cannot pay double just because they are fair trade products. When the wallet is empty, it is empty. So prices have to be affordable.
So what is meant by ethics?
Ethics is a philosophical discipline dealing with moral judgment. For philosophers such as Aristotle or Kant, ethics is about defining what is right and just.
It is a fundamental reflection on which, in principle, the morality (in Greek: ethos) of any people should establish its norms, limits and duties. The concepts of good and just are part of ethics along with theories of social and moral justice. Ethics has also always been concerned, for example, with the distribution of wealth.
This reflection deals with our relationships with others and can be carried out on two levels.
At the most general level, ethical reflection is concerned with conceptions of human good, justice and fulfilment. But it also continues with respect for ourselves and our bodies! Without self-respect, acceptance for who we are, with all aspects of our existence, how can we respect others, animals or nature?
Unfortunately, a lack of ethics is currently found in all areas and at all levels of our daily lives. This is in line with my open letter of July 15th.
I would like to end this article with a quotation framing the ethics of all individuals and in all sectors, being forced to work in order to live and support their families, and who, for this reason, make far too many compromises.
Henry Wotton once said:
"An ambassador is an honest man whose job it is to lie for the good of his country."
This phrase is applicable to many politicians who are convinced that they are acting for a good cause while making too many compromises. But also to all good people, farmers, animal breeders, doctors, employees in the pharmaceutical industry and many others.
To all those who are being forced to ignore or minimise the repercussions of their actions and do not dare question decisions made against common sense. Who believe what they are told or only follow the ideas of the organization or group they represent or belong to out of fear for their job or their place in society.
"One can never say, it's too late. In politics, too, it's never too late. There's always time for a fresh start."
Let's not be like Panurge's sheep. But let us instead reflect carefully on our actions and their consequences. We are too "submissive" out of ease and fear of change. However, the near future will see change, and it will hurt. So let us voluntarily be the change we wish to see, before it is forced upon us. And above all, let us not wait for it to come from above.