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15 December 2005

You Are What You Buy

Last year I stumbled across an organisation called Buy Blue. Buy Blue is a non-profit formed in the wake of the 2004 Presidential election to encourage Democrats to vote with their wallets. The group’s web site has a well-researched database of companies and their political contributions. The database also rates companies based on how they pay their workers, how they treat the environment, and other such factors. Naturally, the site encourages Democrats to shop with companies that donate to Democrats, that treat their workers fairly, and that are generally socially responsible.

This is an important thing for Democrats to be doing. It’s an important thing for all of us to be doing. We have a tendency, in this country especially, to be extremely short sighted about the way our decisions impact others, particulary over the long haul. We act first and think about the consequences later, if at all. So what if Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan pour tax dollars into training, arming and financing freedom fighters in Afghanistan? That couldn’t possibly come back to bite us in the ass. So what if we pour billions of dollars into an unsustainable automobile culture, instead of preparing the way for a day, a few decades from now, when we will have to live without oil? So what if we ignore the horrible poverty, genocide and disease in Africa? A continent that is 40 percent Muslim surely won’t hold a grudge against us a generation or two from now for failing to act.

Likewise, we don’t really pay attention to the products we buy. We don’t really know who owns which brands, who makes the clothes we wear, how much the workers were paid, or how many gallons of pollution were dumped into our drinking water for those products to make it from point A to point Z. Somehow we think that these products just appear on the shelves, that there is no vast structural process by which we receive our Nikes and our McDonald’s cheeseburgers. Say what you will about Focus on the Family and other such organisations. But at least they’re paying attention to the who owns what part of the equation.

If you consider yourself to be a civic minded person, it’s important to understand how campaign contributions impact later policies. It’s important for you to know who is bankrolling your candidate and what they will want in return later. It’s important for you to be aware of which corporations own which media outlets and how that affects the news you consume. It’s important for you to know who makes your voting machines and the political party to which they send their cheques.

We should also be putting our money where our mouths are. You say you aren’t a racist? Prove it by buying clothes from American Apparel or No Sweat Apparel, instead of from companies that use sweat shop labor. You don’t like kids smoking? Stop buying products made by Kraft. You don’t like Wal-Mart’s horrendous business practices? Shop at CostCo, which pays its workers 38 percent higher wages and provides its employees with decent health care. Don’t want your money going to Focus on the Family? You probably shouldn’t buy your pizza at Domino’s.

If you’re a Christian, especially, you have a responsibility to use your money wisely. Part of that means being aware of how the goods and services you purchase impact the world around you. This isn’t about being a Democrat or a Republican. I’m neither. This is about being a responsible human being.

Comments on "You Are What You Buy"


Blogger Jenny said ... (12/16/2005 04:35:00 PM) : 

Completely agreed. It's so hard to do this, but places like No Sweat make it a little easier. I have a pair of Code Pink sneakers and they're great.

I also like American Apparel in terms of the product, but not in terms of its slimy CEO and sexually-objectifying ad campaigns.


Blogger Wasp Jerky said ... (12/17/2005 06:00:00 PM) : 

I agree with your take on American Apparel. And thanks for stopping by and linking to me! I'll be doing the same.


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