A few months ago I made the decision to stop buying Chinese goods. It has been well documented that the Chinese Communist Party is committing genocide on one of its own minorities, the Uighur people, with one million imprisoned in forced-labour camps.
And expert evidence presented to Parliament has told of children being torn from families and women subjected to abhorrent abuse. So how could I possibly continue to support this monstrous regime? And I am not alone.
Last year a MailOnline survey found that half of Britons said they were trying to avoid buying Chinese goods. The poll reflects widespread concern about Britain’s reliance on Beijing.
A few months ago writer John Naish made the decision to stop buying Chinese goods
This has been stoked by anger at the Chinese government’s disastrous attempts to block news of the coronavirus as it emerged in Wuhan, and more recently by its vicious crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong. Sporting celebrities have joined the clamour, including Demba Ba, the former Premier League striker, who called on football authorities to condemn China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims. Any such protest infuriates China’s leadership.
When the Australian government last year condemned Beijing’s human rights violations and its handling of the pandemic, the communists retaliated by slapping trade tariffs on $20billion of key exports, including a crippling 200pc duty on Aussie wine. What if we all boycotted Chinese-made goods? It sounds like such a great idea.
But sadly, I have discovered that it is far more easily said than done. When our Chinese-made smoothie-maker gave up the ghost, I identified a doughty English brand, Russell Hobbs, and visited its website. Next to a proud Union Jack, its website boasts: ‘Established in Britain in 1952.’ Indeed, the company was founded in Croydon by the British innovators Bill Russell and Peter Hobbs, who launched the world’s first coffeemaker that kept the brew warm.
After a trip to Argos, I unboxed our new blender. Then I turned the box upside down. Buried ten lines into the blurb that no one reads were the words: ‘Made in China.’ After days of badgering about its products’ origins, a spokesman for Spectrum Brands, which acquired Russell Hobbs in 2010, told me: ‘The majority of our products are manufactured in China.’
A Russell Hobbs blender and cashmere sweater, both made in China
I contacted all the other major British brands that market electric consumer goods, asking about Chinese manufacture. The great majority did not respond. It seems that many consider their products’ origin to be something of a dirty secret. In fact, finding any China-free Britishmade electrical goods would be ‘highly unlikely’, a spokeswoman for the British manufacturers’ association Make UK told me.
Even ones assembled in Britain should contain components made in China because its massive production scale makes the parts cheaper than anyone else’s, she added. I did find a British-made toaster. Dualit was launched in 1946 in Crawley, West Sussex, and is still owned by founding family the Gort-Bartens. A spokesman told me: ‘Dualit Classic toasters are hand-assembled in the UK at our West Sussex factory.’
LAUNCH YOUR OWN PROTEST
More and more shoppers are using their spending power to make the world a better place. Ethical consumers are boycotting the firms and brands whose practices they do not approve of — whether it is testing on animals or damaging the environment. Here, AMELIA MURRAY hears from spenders who are making a difference a penny at a time.
ANIMAL TESTING IS OUT FOR ME
A decade ago Ruth Bradford decided to stop using cosmetics and beauty products that tested on animals and are not eco-friendly. She says: ‘I felt that my personal vanity is not worth testing on animals.’
The mother-of-two ditched High Street brands and instead opted for cruelty-free PHB Ethical Beauty, Lush and Benecos. Ruth, 39, above, a graphic designer who makes children’s books about wildlife, says the cost of buying ethically is not as much as people expect. She also shops in her local refill outlet in Bristol and on the Ethical Superstore website.
I HAVE SHUNNED FAST FASHION
Sophie Calderbank says no to ‘fast fashion’ – the mass production of cheap, poorquality, disposable clothing. She refuses to buy from lowcost retailers such as Primark and Missguided. Sophie, 33, who runs a sustainable fashion and homeware online store, says: ‘How can they produce a T-shirt that costs £2… They are churning out clothes at an unsustainable rate, clearly taking advantage of their workers and have no consideration for the environment.’
An estimated £140 million worth of clothing is sent to UK landfill each year, according to sustainability charity Wrap. Primark says it works hard to ensure factories commit to good working conditions so that the people who make its products are treated fairly and paid a fair wage. Missguided did not respond.
They added that of the 168 components required to build a four-slice Dualit Classic Toaster, just two are supplied from China. That must be as good as you can get. I would certainly buy one, even though most of Dualit’s other products, such as kettles and coffee machines, are manufactured in China. The stark truth is that the Chinese government has Britain in a consumer stranglehold that is choking any hopes of a home-manufacturing renaissance.
The sheer scale of the Chinese invasion is almost impossible to picture. We had a glimpse of its enormity in March, when the Ever Given, a vast container ship the length of four football pitches, became wedged across Egypt’s Suez Canal en route to Europe. The ship was packed with Chinese products: 20,000 containers with an estimated value of $1billion. Known contents include luxury reclining chairs, masses of consumer electronics and clothes, and a plastic army of garden gnomes. Other Chinese products are far more vital to our economic survival.
Luke Noonan, the sourcing director of CMS Distribution, one of the biggest European distributors of consumer electronics products, says: ‘We are hugely reliant on China. Probably too much so. If China switched off the supply taps, the UK would grind to a halt.’ Cargoes on giant ships include products vital to our construction industry such as mechanical diggers and scaffolding. These are, however, in short supply because in Chinese factories pandemic precautions such as social distancing have reduced production.
‘Construction in the UK is suffering equipment shortages, as are garden furniture supplies,’ says Mr Noonan. ‘Many products simply won’t be available this summer.’
Our dependence on China also renders us subject to its profit-making whims. All of CMS’s consumer electronics, for brands such as Toshiba, Fitbit and SanDisk, originate from China. But lately there have been shortages of consumer-electronic components because it is more profitable to fit them in cars than gadgets.
In a few decades, Britain has gone from the world’s workshop to being entirely dependent on Chinese industry. According to the website NotMadeInChina, Britain now makes no electronics for cars, none for office equipment or industry and no electric tools for gardening or DIY. How did China conquer so completely? Mr Noonan says: ‘They can do things so much cheaper and they are very efficient.’
But China’s leaders have developed another winning tactic: the consumer durables they often sell us are just not durable. They are often badly made rubbish. But no one seems to mind. Last year when my cheap Chinese hedge-trimmer died after 13 months, I dismantled it in an attempt at repair. There was no soldering and no electrical connectors. The flimsy wires were joined using child’s-play plastic clips.
On British shelves, though, it doesn’t seem to matter if the goods are often flimsy rubbish or assembled by forced or unskilled Chinese labour. The regime’s winning sales pitch is: ‘So what if your £35 hedge-clipper broke after a year? Spend another £35 and throw out the old one.’
A decade ago Ruth Bradford decided to stop using cosmetics and beauty products that tested on animals and are not eco-friendly
The same sad fate occurred with our Chinese-made Kenwood food processor. It died after less than two years’ use. It wasn’t fixable. Into the trash it went. Then out of the attic came my dear Auntie Olive’s beloved British-built Kenwood Chef from the 1960s, still dependable almost a lifetime later. Its resilient build is a tribute to its electrical-engineer designer, Ken Wood. As for the new ones, Kenwood assures me that they are high quality and ‘the vast majority of our products are made in factories we own, control and manage in China’.
Conservative MP Tim Loughton, a long-standing critic of China, shares my disappointment with the country’s goods. ‘Most of them are disposable. They can’t be repaired. We have become a disposable society and we now have a very large trade deficit with China.’
Indeed, in 2016 the UK’s trade deficit with China (that is, when the value of our imports exceeds our exports) was £25.4billion, the highest on record. Last year UK imports from China totalled £49billion. How quickly they have grown. In 2000 the total was only £5.2billion. Mr Loughton is himself the victim of a Chinese government boycott.
DID YOU KNOW?
China accounted for 28.7pc of global manufacturing output in 2019, according to the United Nations
In March the regime banned him from entering China. The communists claim that he, along with eight other British citizens, including two peers, a top lawyer and leading academic, had ‘maliciously spread lies’ about Beijing’s treatment of Uighur people. For years Loughton has been trying to shun Chinese products. He says: ‘I was about to buy a cheap cashmere pullover, only to find that it had a ‘Made in China’ label. So I paid a bit more for one that is made in Scotland. It’s so much thicker, warmer, better lasting.’
He adds: ‘I always look for country of origin, if you can find it, and try to avoid anything Chinese. But it is increasingly difficult to do this. It is a worry on every score.’ Some large brands such as Swedish firm H&M have tried to operate ethically in China by saying they will not buy textiles made in Xinjiang because they are very possibly produced using Uighur forced labour.
In March the Chinese Communist Party retaliated with its own home-consumer boycott of H&M. Overnight the brand was ‘disappeared’ from China’s internet sales sites. Effectively it could trade there no more. That’s real boycott-power. And we don’t have it. M r Loughton adds: ‘Britain needs to start making its own goods, properly durable ones that are economically and morally sustainable.’
And Mr Noonan says: ‘Brexit is an indication of our wanting to do more ourselves and to be self-sufficient and sustainable. I hope we can.’ Until that happens, I’m buying only old, durable, repairable second-hand (or, more trendily, ‘vintage’) British products. That’s why I tame our lawn with a 1963 BSA-engined mower. I can repair and rebuild the whole thing using parts manufactured decades ago but which remain easily available on the internet.
You do need time and a few skills to maintain such old tech, but it’s a safe bet that some fellow enthusiast has kindly posted the original repair manual online, and someone else has filmed a YouTube tutorial for amateur mechanics. Yes, my old mower does burn fossil fuels but there is no way that its tiny consumption equates to the amount of energy needed to melt it down to scrap, and then to import a plastic throwaway one from you-know-where. As for the ethical price, it’s beyond rubies. For we must do something.