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?
4 months ago