Wednesday, May 6, 2009

There I go again...

Living up to my moniker by stirring up trouble once again.

So, today one of my classmates commented about how it was interesting that whereas fair labor practices for say ... tennis shoes have really taken off and it's now viewed that companies must practice fair labor practices or risk protest, fair trade is still a niche market, and companies aren't really called into question if their food isn't fair trade.

It's a weird double standard, isn't it? And yet, I think her comment is right on, considering a recent debate I've been having with a colleague: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4.

Now, I appreciate enthusiastic debate, and this one was no exception. I thoroughly appreciated all of Jeff's comments. But I have to admit, I do think it's a little bit weird and also slightly depressing that calling a company out for claiming to be socially responsible while not practicing fair trade is enough to get you labeled as a "puritanical scold."

The funny thing is that in the past I've praised, among other things, Clorox Green Works, Starbucks, and In N Out here and on other blog sites. For heaven's sake, I just admitted my soda and junk food addiction. I'm hardly some sort of ethical purist.

But ... okay ... let's say a corporation, let's call them Shmike for the sake of this argument, let's say Shmike was producing I don't know ... shoes that made you fall down a lot. Now for me, that wouldn't be any different from any other shoes, but, let's imagine that these shoes made even vaguely graceful people fall down a lot. So these shoes cause people to fall which is not particularly healthy. Let's say these shoes are also made by children in sweatshop conditions.

Now let's say Shmike reacts to some of the bad press surrounding their shoes that make people fall down a lot. And even though there are plenty of people who still are buying the shoes (because even though they make you fall down, they are pretty cool) they decide to listen to the growing clamor of parents and podiatrists and decide to get out of the business of making shoes that cause people to fall down. So they make new shoes that don't make people fall down, but in fact cause people to walk normal ... you know ... like shoes are SUPPOSED to do. But they still use child labor.

Given this case, would you say that Shmike was really being socially responsible? Would you applaud Shmike for no longer making shoes that cause people to fall down? Or would you say, "Well, that's nice that your shoes no longer make people fall down, but uh, how about you stop with the sweatshops, mkay?"

The truth is that the real "Shmike" has enacted much better labor practices because of international advocacy. Again, look, I am all for kids eating more fruits and vegetables and all the other things that Michael Pollan loves. But if we can agree that sweatshops are bad, can't we also agree that sweatshop-shop like conditions for agricultural workers are also bad? Can't we agree that while no one wants to be a puritanical scold, we can't really call a company "socially responsible" if they are not engaging in fair labor practices?

Or are we really so desperate for kids in the North to eat a frickin apple, that we are willing to sell out poor laborers in the South?


Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

I was reading through the four parts of your debate on Just Means waiting and waiting for someone to finally voice the thought that popped into my head as soon as I read Jeff's first post, and I was so happy that you finally asked it in your last post, "Should fruit be branded?"

I respond vehemently, No, No, No! I try very hard not to let my children watch too many commercials. I rarely ever let them have clothes or shoes with cartoon characters on them, even though cartoon-free clothing is getting harder and harder to find. And I avoid fruit rollups and yogurt and cereal and everything else that is used as another means of advertising to my children. Please, please, please, Disney, stay away from my fruit!

As for your other argument, I definitely agree with you.

Billie said...

If men's bathrooms have advertisements over the urinals and this is considered acceptable, then really there isn't anything that is free from advertising including your fruits and vegetables.

I have really been trying to hammer home to my stepson that using characters(or included toys) to sell food is really just the company tricking the child into wanting something he wouldn't normally want. His response is that he doesn't care. He wants that toy. He usually backs down when I tell him that if buys that box of cereal, he won't get another one until its done.

It really frustrates me that his requests are only for character clothes and toys. His next shoes must be Ben10 shoes. He is completely and totally sucked into consumerism and was at 5 - yes 5 - years old. As a non-custodial stepmother, I have very little influence. I can't say that his parents share my viewpoints in this manner.

Anonymous said...

"Politics of the Plate: Florida’s Slave Trade

A little slavery is okay, just not too much of it."

Buying anything means you are responsible for how it is produced and the mess left behind.


Farmer's Daughter said...

Just another reason to shop from small family farms.

But the truth there is that the kids also work, often against their will. I should know, I was one of them. BUT I didn't do drugs, get arrested, or get pregnant. So while it was annoying then that I'd have to go home and work on the farm instead of go out with my friends, I thank them now.

But please don't misinterpret and think that I'm for sweatshops, I'm not. But I really don't see a problem with regulated child labor. Although child labor within a family isn't regulated... but I think the idea that kids should be able to sit on their fat butts and play video games because they're so bored all the time isn't the right mindset either.

And PS- We can grow some pretty good apples up north, too :)

Robj98168 said...

You Trouble stirrer upper you! LOL I was reading your debate on the Hannah Montana Banana. despite the obvious lewd comments I could make about Hannah's banana... Maybe the fact that they are endorsing banana's with hannah's image is a good thing. Me personally, I wouldn't buy a hannah montanna banana or a zak efron avacado for all the Mr.T brand tea in china, but that is just me. I always had trouble with brand names in clothing, I'll be damned if I let them invade my bananas and avacados. Christ aint their enough with celebrity endorsements- You mean to tell me Hannah hasn't made enough money for disney already? A banana only tastes good if it is a hannah montana banana??? Like she personally grew it and picked it and shipped tha damn banana??? Enough, please, Mr Eisner. I have to agree with you Arduous, I think this is deplorable. Noe let me get back to my Burt Reynolds Tuna Fish sandwich

ruchi said...

I think Burt Reynolds Tuna Fish sandwich might be the funniest thing ever.

Going Crunchy said...

I think much of it also is a great big loop of issues. In order to stop using child labor or practices that endanger workers we have to expect to pay a fair price for food. With the low low low, and more, more, more and wasteful ways of the U.S. - everybody is challenged to try to make a profit.

And no, I wouldn't buy a Hannah Montana Bananna for anything - but I can imagine all the corny You-Tube quasi-porn that is going to come from that one. Shannon