The first time I remember visiting America, I was 16 years old. I was flabbergasted at the prices of everything I saw when I went shopping. I felt like I had landed in paradise. I was seeing the effects of the triumph of liberty, capitalism, the free market, you know, all that good stuff. I loved Rush Limbaugh and listened to him faithfully in Japan. I despised liberals with their evil anti-capitalist agendas who wanted to charge way too much for organic, non-GMO, local, fair trade, eco-friendly, handmade, artisan products.
Fast forward a few years.
I have lived in America for six and a half years now. I still would never even think of calling myself a liberal. There’s too much about it that I cannot agree with. For example, I’m prolife.
However, I have changed a lot in certain areas. I still believe in a lot of the same things. But with a lot more qualifications now. I believe that shoppers have an ethical responsibility for what they buy, because whatever they buy, they are funding somebody. I found out that all kinds of things I used to buy without thinking are actually contributing to slave labor. I am paying evil men who buy slaves and force them to work in unthinkably horrible situations, being beaten, malnourished, and dying, all for what? So we can buy cheap, low-quality products at Walmart or the dollar store.
People around the world are literally dying, I am not exaggerating … people are dying so Americans can get a good deal.
Every time we spend money, no matter what we buy, we are helping some people and hurting some people. When we shop, it is impossible to separate shopping from ethics. If we shop righteously, as much as we are able, we are hurting unethical businesses and (I hope!) steering them towards ethical business practices because they want to stay in business and continue to make a profit. When we sacrifice the lives and perpetuate suffering for people we can’t see in countries far away so that we can get a good deal, we are hurting those people, our fellow creatures created in God’s image, and encouraging business to continue taking advantage of those people.
I know that it is not always possible to find out the source of the things we buy. I know that it is not always possible to afford to buy such things. But my plea is for people to start being more careful, paying more attention, and once you know something has an evil source, then quit buying it. Try the very best to stop supporting businesses that hurt people and seek out businesses that are blessing people.
Personally, there are a few things I am trying to pay attention to. And I try to keep my eyes open. Almost all the food we buy is local and organic. It is amazing how much better it tastes and how much healthier the children are. I try to buy recycled, used, local, handmade items as much as possible. When I buy chocolate, I try to make sure it’s fair trade, because so many people die to provide America with cheap chocolate (Hershey’s chocolate doesn’t just taste atrocious and it isn’t just bad for your health, it’s hurting people). When I buy cotton clothing, I buy organic or used whenever I can because there are so many people dying to make cheap cotton.
There is something uniquely communal, Trinitarian, perichoretic, something really lovely, about buying something and knowing the face of the person who you are buying from, whether it’s a local farmer, coffee roaster, or someone with a stand at the farmer’s market. Next time you buy chocolate, or buy cotton clothing, take a moment. Stop. Think. Pay attention. Use your smart phone and Google. Or if you don’t want to think about each thing that you buy, then try to shop at a store that commits to organic, fair-trade, ethical products.
Just because shopping in modern America has become an impersonal, faceless thing does not mean there are not faces on the other side. We just can’t see them anymore. And many of them are suffering and dying so we can get two for $1 instead of one for $2 or $3 or $4 or $5.
I don’t believe that legislation will fix anything. I don’t think it will necessarily even help anything. The only real solution is for consumers to become more aware, to start paying attention, for people to examine their consciences about what their money will do to other people before they pounce on a great deal. Whatever the laws are, dishonest businessmen will find a way around them, as long as there is demand for unethically produced items.
My next related project is trying to find some way to get involved with micro-financing, so I not only discourage bad practices abroad but encourage and support good ones.
- Child Labor & Trafficking
- The GM genocide: Thousands of Indian farmers are committing suicide after using genetically modified
- How Much Do You Know About Where Your Halloween Candy Comes From?
Note: One more thing I love about Seattle: how so much of the population cares so much about ensuring that what they buy is ethical.