Have you ever thought about your spending purchases from an ethical standpoint? I’m sure you’ve noticed the “Buy American” bumper sticker on the back of some people’s cars, but for the most part not too many people give daily consideration to where and how the products they buy are made. With us being a cog in what is essentially a global economy, it makes sense to know where your hard earned dollars are going. When you purchase something that was made in a foreign country, are your dollars potentially supporting that country’s dictatorship? Are the workers treated well? Do they make a living wage? The November fire in a clothing factory in Bangladesh that killed over 100 workers has re-opened people’s eyes to an awareness of how workers around the world are treated.
Bangladesh has become a favorite of American retailers such as Walmart, JC Penney, Kohl’s, and H & M. Those companies come to Bangladesh because it has some of the cheapest labor in the world, as low as 21 cents an hour. Workers produce clothing in crowded conditions that would be illegal in the U.S. In the past five years, more than 700 Bangladeshi employees have died in factory fires.
This is not said to make you feel guilty about buying things that were made in Bangladesh. However, it is important for you to know that as a consumer, you can be a voice for change. We all want to get good value for our purchases; economics play a large role in our spending decisions. Some other ethical considerations you might want to ponder when you make a purchase include:
Where was the item made? Retailers will take notice if a large number of people start questioning them about where their products were made, what conditions are like for the workers who made them, and whether they were treated fairly and paid a living wage.
Where will the product go when you are done with it? None of us keeps everything forever, but some items are especially transitory. Bottled beverages such as juice, water, or pop are meant to be one-time usage products. However, plastic bottles don’t break down after they are discarded; they are made from petroleum products. If they’re not recycled, they will be thrown into the landfill, where they will remain a plastic bottle for 1000+ years. Can you use glass bottles or a stainless steel cup instead? Those items can be washed and used over and over again, reducing the amount of waste that is buried in the ground.
Are you willing to purchase used items? Buying something that someone else used is recycling at its finest. You not only get a great deal, money-wise, but you also keep useful items out of the landfill and lower the environmental costs of producing a brand new item.
Do you buy or use local products? Eating local foods reduces transportation costs and the environmental impact of hauling food cross-country. And by supporting locally owned businesses, you keep your money within your community.
Can you buy less stuff? Everything we bring into our home has to be maintained in some way, shape, or form. Think about how much of your time is going to be given over to maintenance of that item. Will you also have to invest more money into the product just so you can keep using it (for example, batteries)?
Where will your dollars go after you make your purchase? Will those dollars be used against you, or a person like you? Will your money help build a better world for the person who made the item, or will it line the pockets of the corporation (or multi-million dollar sports star) whose name is on the product??
Bottom line? We only get a couple of opportunities a year to vote in an election (primary, general). Those elections eventually shape our government and communities. But we get opportunities every day to influence the world when we lay our hard-earned dollars down at the cash register. By using that consumer power, which is huge, we are making impacts that benefit all people in more equal ways.
Donna Green, Family & Consumer Sciences Educator