Well done to ABC’s  Foreign Correspondent for an excellent look at the Temple hair trend.  Hair extensions are a booming business thanks to our obsession with excess and indulgence and while our big-hair aspirations are perfectly sound on the surface,  the behind-the-scenes exploitation that underpins some of the industry is just wrong.

Hair shaving is an important ritual in Hindu society.  Babies first haircut (mundan) is symbolic of cutting ties with the bad traits from a previous life – they are all cut away with the hair!  In addition, many Hindu women only cut their hair as part of a religious ceremony or as a symbolic offering.   It is common for Hindu’s to completely shave their heads at least twice in their lives as part of a thanks-giving ritual to a deity. Shaving the hair is symbolic of freeing ones-self from one’s ego – something that the European hair sellers could do with learning about!

This custom has not gone un noticed and has now formed the business end of a lucrative and fast-growing supply chain.

The cut hair is collected at temples and then on-sold to hair traders who promptly process the tresses ready for export to Europe and America. This holy offering seems to serve only one God on this planet – the god of money and apparently it’s all good.

But is it?

The men, women and children shaving their hair at temples do so on a voluntary basis in order to please the Gods (having not spoken to any of the devotee’s I must trust that these people do act under their own free will).  They expect and desire no payment for the hair. The temple then enters into a business agreement with hair suppliers and sells the bulk hair for whatever they can get I guess.  Is that wrong? Not in principle no.

At this stage in the supply chain the problem that I have is that the ‘middle man’ is able to take advantage of this good will and faith to buy hair (which would otherwise hold little earthly value)  for a low price,  process it using cheap labour and then sell it for a massive profit. Good business YES but is it  Just? Is it right? Is it ethical?

The ABC program pointed out that the temples get paid for the hair and re-invest that money back into the local community. That is excellent but they must only see a small percentage of the profits realized from these innocent donations. I must say that I would feel outraged if I donated blood in order to help out my fellow-man only to find that it get’s used as a special effect in horror movies. Not quite the same thing but not far from the truth!

Going up the supply chain a bit further and we see a further gulf in empathy and responsibility. Again, there is nothing wrong with ceasing an opportunity to make some money, creating good jobs and opportunities along the way and generally facilitating a new way for people to look and feel good. However, I can’t help but feeling a little sick in my stomach when I know that those of us who can afford to choose whether or not to have hair extensions could probably afford to give a little something back to the people who made it all possible – not the importers, the dyers or the processors. The people who grew the stuff!

This is not about poor people in India needing money to feed their families.  These people are not as poor as we are. This is not about token gestures – oh we paid a fair market price for something that would end up in the bin. This is about corporate and social responsibility, about transparency and about honesty.  The men, women and children involved didn’t donate the hair to YOU they donated it to God.  Wouldn’t it be fair to  honor that trust and optimism and dedication by showing these people that heaven really can be found on earth helped along by a big dose of equality a sense of fair play and  a large helping of love for our neighbours.

Hair trade can be fair trade.