A Greek dramatist (maybe a rather trivial one) would have a word for what follows.
On my recommendation a friend – G from Amsterdam – bought a pair of shoes (Evelyn, blue, £39.99 back then, currently £49.99) from Bourgeois Boheme. Because of the astronomical postage they were delivered to me so that our mutual friend M (from Amsterdam and staying with Matt and me last weekend) could take them back with her.
A couple of weeks ago, I was horrified to see exactly the same pair in the window a shop on Barkingside High St for a seventh of the price – £7. At that time it was night and the shop – Risky – was closed.
Went back to Risky at the first opportunity (that Sunday) . It was closed. I photographed the shoes – they were the same shoes, the manufacturer was Blu and although Bourgeois Boheme had branded theirs, the box clearly said Blu on it. Stroked my chin for some time trying to decide what to do – I felt bad for G, and was having reservations about Bourgeois Boheme and Risky.
I decided not to tell Gloria because I couldn’t get to the shop before this Saturday and a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Then I put the final nail in the coffin by emailing BB to tell them that I’m happy to pay extra for my apparel, but only with certain reassurances about veganness, workforce welfare, environment and so on. I got a load of them but no evidence. I don’t trust hardwood suppliers without evidence, so at the current time my confidence in Bourgeois Boheme could be better.
Meanwhile, Bourgeois Boheme won the Vegan Society Ethical Retailer of the Year. But I think it’s a reader vote and I’m not sure how much scrutiny BB has actually been subjected to.
Anyway, M collected the shoes as planned. She took them to work in a bag slung on her bike handlebars, had a tussle with her bike lock and forgot them. By the time she’d remembered they’d been stolen. So we told Gloria about the £7 pair to pre-empt her shelling out another £49. Fingers crossed, I’m going to be able to pick up a pair on Saturday.
Then I got curious. I called the Vegan Society, and found out that they lend their logo on trust. The woman’s best point was that there were not enough resources to do spot checks, and failing that we have to go on trust – and even if I spoke to the manufacturer, they’d only tell me what they told Bourgeois Boheme. The Vegan Society asks for a declaration before it allows the use of its logo. In a state of extreme mistrust I drafted another email to BB. It read:
You seem like a lovely company, and of course you’ve just won the Vegan Society’s Ethical Retailer of the Year. But I understand that the shortlisted companies and their suppliers were not particularly scrutinised – it was a reader vote. What it comes down to is that I have to take BB’s and the Vegan Society’s word for it. And – though I wince as I type this, because of course I want to have complete confidence in the retailers I choose to buy from – experience tells me that I should be less complacent. Vegans, eco-warriors etc – especially “bourgeois” ones – who are able to pay more for a cleaner conscience could easily be taken advantage of – like the people who buy Malaysian hardwood stamped with fake sustainability labels.
I wonder how you satisfy yourself that your suppliers are sufficiently rigorous. How do you identify them and collect your information? Are there any spot-checks on the suppliers? You probably have better things to do than reply to this, but I would be happy to see this kind of information on your Web site.
Then I shook myself. If you can’t trust that Vegan Society logo as an indicator, what can you trust? Not much – only organisations which do spot checks and there aren’t too many of those in the vegan world.