January 15, 2012

Making A Point With Money

The majority of my recent post have been somewhat depressing: between palm oil, poaching, the USDA killing birds, more palm oil, and the economy, there hasn't seemed to be much good in the big wide world out there. People are greedy and willing to do whatever it takes to make a buck or get things done the easy way, the rest of the world be damned.

All of this led to me wondering about the business practices of large corporations... the latest disappointment is from a company I love and have recommended for years, yet now all I hear is Apple buying products from what are essentially slave and child labor companies in China in buildings that work people 12+ hours for pennies and have suicide nets as a standard office amenity. Apple is wildly successful and insanely popular and their young, hip and socially aware following gives Apple the ability to change world business practices, so why support unfair and cruel business practices?

I know the answer, and it's the same reason high quality food companies use palm oil when they know it's low quality and environmentally damaging, but it's depressing. Corporations can make a higher profit margine by saving money on production, and if palm oil and child labor are the means to the end then so be it. It's got me thinking twice about getting an iPhone (and a MacBook Pro) when the time comes... I don't like the other products out there, but if buying from Apple means supporting horrid labor practices I can't feel good about that, and I really, really want to be excited about those purchases. (I know that other computer and phone companies are exactly the same, and that no matter what I buy I will be supporting environmental damage or child labor or some other horrible business practices, but Apple is so popular and believes so highly of itself that it should be above that. A silver lining may be that Apple has now, finally, disclosed almost every supplier for its products, allowing third party auditors to assess the conditions of the factories and create better positions for the workers.)

Last month I bought an American Apparel hoodie because I had a Groupon for half off. I always really liked the styles of the jackets and they seem to last forever, but even still I could never justify paying $50 for a jacket. At $25 it was way more reasonable, especially since the lower quality jackets at Target were $20 this season, and I'm glad the only negative business practice that purchase supported was skanky models and a skankier CEO. But I'm not hipster enough or rich enough to shop there all the time, so Target and Ross it is for the rest of my clothes, which no doubt save money with Chinese slave and child labor (not to mention Target's financial support of anti-gay fanatics).

One of the reasons I want to be quasi-wealthy one day is so I can spend $50 on American made jackets, buy sustainable and organic food at farmer's markets every week and really make an effort to make a difference with my money. And it's sad that doing so requires a certain amount of wealth, but it does. I already spend $8 on a bottle of shampoo (and am looking for new body wash, face wash, face scrub and hand soap), buy high quality cat food, avoid palm oil, get fair trade and organic tea, and only buy sustainable fish when I eat meat, but I know all or most of my clothes were originally made in a sweat shop somewhere, the battery in my phone was mined in Africa and probably cost someone his life, and now my computer (and iPod and likely every other electronic I own or use) is manufactured by little kids or miserable adults in China.

So what am I supposed to do? Ignorance really is bliss. Not knowing, or caring, can make life so much easier. Better, maybe not, but easier.

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