Posts Tagged ‘boycott

26
Feb
11

I Agree With You But…

A few weeks ago, I and some friends were protesting an unfair policy at my college. Exactly what the policy was isn’t important, suffice it gave the student body unequal treatment, depending on which class you belonged you. So as I and my friend stood in hallway, holding homemade signs, the students getting the special treatment began to file past us. Some ignored our calls for them to refuse the preferential treatment they were being offered, a few stopped to talk to us, and some even listened to us and turned around and left. For the most part, however, the students smiled at us and said “I agree with you but-“. Exactly what there justification was isn’t really important either- it tended to be something along the lines of “-but I don’t want to stand in the other line…” or “-but my friends are waiting for me in there…” or “-but they’re going to give your class something nice as well…” and so on. As I said, the justification isn’t really important- it’s the “I agree with you but-” part.

 

Now I wanted to tell them “Hey- you either agree or you don’t- you’ll either take our side or you won’t”. If you agree that killing kittens for sport is unethical (don’t panic- that not what the college was doing) then you won’t kill kittens- if you don’t agree, then you’ll have no issue with it. However, you can’t ever say that “I believe killing kittens for sport is wrong, but [insert excuse here]”. Again, you either agree or you don’t.

 

And the issue I have isn’t with which side people take- it’s with attempt to hold two conflicting positions. In the words of one of my favorite rappers, “Hypocrisy- it bothers me” (Lowkey- I recommend his song “Terrorist”). You see, this “I agree with you but…” scenario is reflective of a much greater problem we have in society. On one hand we say we believe something- most of the time we believe that we believe- but when it comes to acting on our purported beliefs we’re nowhere to be seen. I saw this issue earlier when I was going door to door collecting signatures for a boycott of Coca-Cola. I’d ask if the residents believed that sweatshop labor was wrong- they’d say “Yes.”. I’d ask them if they thought people should boycott sweatshop made products- they’d say “Yes.”. I’d ask them if they would boycott Coke and they’d say “No- we agree with you but-“. Again I want to yell at these people “No, you don’t agree with me! I don’t care if I get your signature or not- just don’t tell me you agree with me but you won’t do anything!”.

 

Maybe it’s a post-modernist thing- values are held for the aesthetic qualities, not for their application. When you get a poster of Picasso’s Guernica, it’s because the picture fits well with the general decor of the room you’re hanging it in- not because you espouse an anti-war view. In the same way, you might have (or rather, claim to have) an anti-war view because it looks good- not because you’d ever act on it.

 

Or maybe I’m over thinking it. Maybe the “I agree with you but…” is just a human problem.

 

Not too long ago, I was listening to a Socialist give a lecture on human nature. She made the claim that in times of disaster, humans didn’t immediately turn on each or hunt each other down. Melodramatic, yes, but her point was that even when you strip away government, the police, the army, and all social constructs for the protection of humans against each other, people didn’t start murdering each other left and right. She argued that this disproves the belief that human nature is inherently evil. Of course, while the points she offered are correct, the conclusions she drew are all wrong. Humans aren’t basically evil because we do terrible things to each other- humans are basically evil because we do nothing. One of my favorite movies, The Boondock Saints, opens with a priest giving a sermon on the murder of a young woman who was killed in public, with no one responding in any ways to her calls for help. The priest declares “We must all fear evil men, but there is another kind of evil that we must fear most, and this the indifference of good men…”.

 

Maybe the problem is here. Maybe we’re just too egocentric to imagine anything as unfair unless we’re being affected. Maybe we’re just naturally apathetic.

 

Of course, that’s no excuse. Just because we have a proclivity towards selfishness, hypocrisy, and laziness doesn’t mean we should get away with it. Is it right to tolerate injustice and oppression? Of course not. Should we resist, engage, dissent, and fight for what is moral and right? Naturally. So we’re going to shake ourselves out of apathy?

 

Well, I agree with you, but…

18
Jan
11

What’s It Going To Take?

At my college, I’ve been trying to get a number of products (made by immoral companies or through unethical means) boycotted, both by the campus and by the students. It hasn’t been going so great.

My fellow students are more than willing, when I come knocking at their doors, to sign my petitions, but overwhelmingly that’s as far as they’ll go. More often than not they sign without even asking what I’m trying to do or tell me that they need time to think it over (which has been just a euphemism for “go annoy someone else”). It’s not that I’m ungrateful for having as many signatures as I do, but the real issue here is getting my peers to make a conscious change to the way they live their lives- to make an ethical statement. In all honesty I’d rather have them not sign at all than sign without actually joining the boycotts.

But that’s a bit off topic- here’s the real problem.

I don’t think the moral lines could be more clearly drawn in such a situation. We have companies that have killed for profit, selling their products here on campus, and in the stores and markets across the world. These two companies make junk food, their products are easy to substitute or give up entirely. I and my fellow activists merely ask that our peers stop spending their money to these unethical corporations.

And yet we’ve had almost no response.

It’s not an issue of necessity, where our peers are forced to buy certain products. It’s not an issue of availability- there are plenty of perfectly good (or at least, less harmful) substitutes to the boycott products. It’s not an issue of trust- we don’t want donations. The issue is that my peers just don’t care!

And here seems to be the problem- people don’t care much either way if the beverage they’re drinking came from a sweatshop in Colombia, or if the chocolate they’re eating was harvested by ten year-old slave-laborers in Central America. Perhaps it was best said in the film Hotel Rwanda, when one of the characters comments “…When people turn on their TVs and see this footage, they’ll say, ‘Oh my God, that’s horrible,’ and then they’ll go back to eating their dinners.”. Other than a shallow, fleeting expression of shock or sadness or horror, no one seems to be moved to action.

Perhaps it’s that my peers (and Westerners in general) simply don’t expect anything from the third world other than disease, poverty, starvation, war, and genocide. Just a couple days ago, I saw this advertisement for the New York Food Bank (linked here)- in it, one of the spokespersons states “hunger happens in the third world- not in New York City”. Granted, the statement was made to make a point about the very real presence of hunger in New York, but it bugged me nonetheless. I appreciate them dealing with the issue of hunger in New York, but are they saying it’s acceptable elsewhere? I want to think it was just a poor choice of words on their part, but this kind of mentality does indeed exist. It’s a kind of unconscious racism- the idea that these places always have been miserable and always will be. The idea that there’s no hope. Again, Hotel Rwanda hits the nail on the head when a UN colonel says to the protagonist “You’re black. You’re not even a nigger. You’re an African.”. Perhaps the reason we can’t get people to care is because they just don’t believe the oppressed peoples of the world are capable of ever living in better conditions.

Or maybe that’s not the case. Maybe it’s that people are just distracted by other things. We’re bombarded every waking moment with messages telling us to lose weight or to gain weight or to lighten our skin or to darken our skin or to get a better clothes or a house or a better car and better insurance to protect those things. Perhaps it’s easy to lose track or get our priorities confused, and we start valuing a specific brand of soda over the lives of farmers in India.

Or maybe it’s that people just won’t care unless they themselves are the ones being oppressed and exploited. Maybe we’re so selfish and self-centered that the only motivation we’ll ever have to make the world a better place is when we’re the ones bruised, bloody, and starving. Maybe that’s the only wake-up call I and peers will ever really respond to- a lashing from the sweatshop overseer for falling asleep at our station, or the jab of a soldier’s bayonet for having been born the wrong race. Is this how things are going to be? The people who can help don’t care, and the people need help aren’t able?

At this point in the post, I’d usually throw out some kind of appeal or call to action, but I just don’t know what to say. What is it going to take to wake the world up? What’s it going to take to spur people into action? The movies, the poetry, the charity, the music- it helps for a while and briefly seizes our attention, but we soon get bored and forget. The powerful stay powerful, the powerless stay powerless. The rich get richer and the poor get left further behind. Again, what do we- what do I need to do?

08
Jan
11

Corporations To Boycott (Part II)

As in my last post, this is by no means a complete list, and any and all suggestions (or criticisms) are welcome.

GAP:

GAP (called “The Gap” by people who just don’t know better) is perhaps one of the most successful clothing stores in the US. GAP is also notorious for its use of sweatshops and child-labor (resulting in a tragic-yet-hilarious video by satirical publication “The Onion”, which I’ve linked for you here). Some of GAP’s more prominent crimes include:

  • Operating sweatshops and abusing workers in Saipan (a pacific island administrated over by the United States).
  • Operating sweatshops and using child labor in Jordan.
  • Operating sweatshops and using child labor in India.

GAP also owns and operates other clothing outlets, including Banana Republic and Old Navy. Despite it’s size, boycotting GAP (and it’s subsidiaries) is fairly easy due to the prevalence of thrift stores.

Nike:

As with GAP, Nike is infamous for it’s use of child labor, sweatshop labor, assorted violations of worker’s rights, and general exploitative practices, such as:

  • Repeated and widespread use of sweatshops across the third-world, including such countries as Vietnam, Indonesia, Pakistan, China, Cambodia, and other countries.
  • Exposure of workers in Thai factories to toxic chemicals.
  • Repeated use of various music pieces (such as the Beatle’s “Revolution”) without permission from the artists.
  • Capitalization of Langston Hughes’ poem “A Dream Deferred”. Perhaps some explanation is needed here. Hughes was a major black writer during the 1930s, and his classic poem “A Dream Deferred” describes Hughes’ frustration and anger at the oppression of African-Americans. Nike used “A Dream Deferred” In a 2008 commercial advertising their shoes, (commercial linked here). The images and message of the advertisement have nothing in common with the meaning of the poem, and yet the poem is used for promotion of Nike’s product. There’s something very, very wrong about usurping a powerful work about racial segregation and degradation and using it to hawk footwear.

As with GAP, while Nike is a large company with a wide variety of brands and products, boycotting is fairly easy with the wide number of alternatives to buying $300 shoes made in sweatshops.

Wal-Mart:

While you’re probably already familiar with the ocean of criticisms of Wal-Mart, it’s still worth listing a few of the more heinous acts and policies for the few who might not be aware:

  • Wal-Mart is known for underpaying and overworking it’s employees. Allegations of sexism and racism have also been made.
  • Wal-Mart is viciously anti-union, attempting to “inform” workers as to the dangers of unionization, firing workers for both joining/starting unions and discussion joining/starting unions. Wal-Mart has (based on the statements of a former executive, Tom Coughlin) even gone so far as to bribe union employees in order to single-out Wal-Mart employees who had signed union cards.
  • Wal-Mart operates a number of sweatshops in China and Bangladesh.
  • Wal-Mart’s use of sweatshop labor allow it to sell products cheaply in the US, undermining small and locally-owned competitors who are forced out of business.
  • Wal-Mart, during the mid 90s, made a practice of taking out life-insurance policies on it’s employees, allowing the corporation to benefit from their deaths. Wal-Mart had named this practice “Dead Peasant” insurance.
  • Wal-Mart sells furniture made from trees grown in protected habitats in Russia (the trees were illegally cut down). The corporation has stated it will not stop selling the furniture until 2013.

Now boycotting Wal-Mart is substantially more difficult than boycotting other corporations because of the relatively low prices of most Wal-Mart products. More often than not, Wal-Mart is the more economic choice, instead of the ethical. Nevertheless, buying from local stores (dollar stores make a decent alternative) is well worth it.

Caterpillar Inc.:

While I’m guessing most of you don’t buy heavy-duty construction and demolition equipment, it’s still worth adding Caterpillar on to the list- if nothing else it might help shake their public image a bit. The primary criticism of Caterpillar is:

  • Caterpillar bulldozers (and other demolition machines) are bought and used by Israeli army to destroy Palestinian buildings.
  • In 2003, activist Rachel Corrie was killed in Palestine when a Caterpillar bulldozer was driven into her.

As before, chances are you won’t be buying Caterpillar equipment in the future, but it’s still worth pointing out.

29
Dec
10

Corporations To Boycott (Part I)

While we’re increasingly aware that the majority of products in stores are the results of sweatshop labor or other unethical practices, we tend to be not aware of which corporations are responsible. To help combat this, below I’ve listed some major corporations and a couple descriptions of their more heinous crimes.

 

Nestle:

While you probably wouldn’t associate a company whose logo is a nest of baby birds with anything but sunshine and joy, Nestle will probably make the top ten of anyone’s list of evil corporations. Among Nestle’s major crimes are:

  • Marketing infant formula to developing nations, despite the fact that many water sources (water being used in the preparation of the formula) in the third world are polluted or otherwise unfit for drinking. Many third world women are either illiterate or unable to read the language the formula instructions are written in, leading to babies essentially being fed toxic formula. Nestle has been aware of this since the late 70s but continues to aggressively market it’s products to the world world, even in the face of the 1981 World Health Organization regulations on infant formula advertising. Even with formula that is properly prepared, non-breastfed infants are at a much higher risk of disease.
  • In addition to marketing infant formula to the third world, Nestle has also begun to “freely” offer it’s infant formula in some maternity wards and hospitals. Once new mothers start their babies on the formula, the lactation process in interrupted and the babies must continue to use formula, even after they leave the hospital (and the formula, no longer free, must be bought).
  • Buying dairy products from farms seized and controlled by the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe, despite the country being under international sanctions.
  • Contributing to the deforestation of Borneo in order to attain palm oil, used in a number of Nestle products.

Now Nestle is by no means limited to the baby formula market- and has a vast array of subsidiary companies and brands, ranging from Wonka candy to L’Oreal cosmetics. Fortunately, Nestle has a habit of boldly displaying it’s logo on it’s various products, so it’s not especially difficult to figure which products not to buy.

 

Coca-Cola:

Like Nestle, Coca-Cola is one of the corporations you’d never suspect. Among their long list of crimes are:

  • The creation of a subsidiary company (“Fanta”) in order to continue selling products to Germany during WWII. Allow me to say that again, just to make sure you get it. Coca-Cola, an American company, created a subsidiary so they could continue to sell carbonated drinks to the Nazis, during the second world war! Forgetting the fact that Coca-cola advertised itself as a patriotic company and the choice soft-drink of American soldiers and then turned around and built manufacturing plants in country America was at war with, they sold to the Nazis. Even before the second world war it was common knowledge that Fascism wasn’t the greatest thing in the world.
  • A large amount of water is used in the creation of a number of Coke products. In Kerala, India, a Coca-cola bottling plant used so much water that a miniature drought was created, devastating the lives of the local farmers. The plant was eventually shut down, but it still demonstrates the companies lack of concern for the impact the manufacturing of it’s product has on the environment and locals.
  • In both Gautemala and Colombia, union leaders have been murdered by paramilitary groups- contracted by Coca-Cola– for attempting to improve deplorable conditions of the manufacturing plants there. Similar anti-union oppression has occurred in Turkey, China, and El Salvador.

While again like Nestle, Coca-Cola profits from a wide range of brands and products, it’s much more difficult to find out which. Some Coca-Cola products include: Dasani bottled water, Snapple, Heineken, Bacardi, Dr Pepper, Minute Maid, Powerade, and many others. You can see a full list here.

 

Monsanto:

Monsanto is the closest thing we have to James Bond villain’s empire. It’s a massive biotechnological agricultural corporation- in simpler terms, they study, manufacture, and sell genetically engineered crops, hormone growth treatments for animals, and herbicides. Most prominent in their long list of crimes and unethical activities are:

  • The creation of terminator seeds- seeds that have been genetically modified so that after producing a crop, the seeds that crop produces will be sterile (farmers will be unable to use those seeds to plant more crops). Essentially what this means is that farmers must continually buy seeds from Monsanto in order to grow crops. This isn’t so much monopolization as it is enslavement.
  • Monsanto’s animal growth hormones have been alleged to be linked to a number of a verities of cancer.
  • In Anniston, Alabama, Monsanto was documented to have knowingly disposed of mercury and PCB for forty years into creeks serving as the local drinking supply. Monsanto has similarly dumped toxic waste in landfills in Britain.
  • Monsanto was one of the creators of Agent Orange, a defoliation product used during the Vietnam War with horrific effects on both the Vietnamese people and US veterans.
  • In an attempt to escape investigation of the impact it’s genetically manufactured cotton had on the local Indonesian environment, Monsanto bribed a high level Indonesian official.
  • In France, Monsanto was found guilty of falsely advertising it’s herbicide Roundup as being biodegradable- however one of the chemicals used in the herbicide extremely bad for the environment.
  • Monsanto has both a very large and powerful lobbying group and a number of American public officials are former Monsanto employees, including (but not limited to): Michael Taylor- former Monsanto Lobbyist and now senior adviser to the FDA commission on food safety (if you look up “Conflict of Interest” in the dictionary, you’ll find this cited as an example), Donald Rumsfeld (former Secretary of Defense), Linda Fisher- assistant administrator for the EPA, and Clarence Thomas- a justice of the Supreme Court.

In short, Monsanto doesn’t even pretend to be anything but evil.

 

So what’s to be done?

 

While, as the title of the post suggests, boycotting products from these companies is ideal- stemming profits to these companies will give more ethical companies a chance to compete, and if nothing else makes a good ethical statement. Another good move is simply spreading the word- the majority of corporations build of a facade of PR so they can engage in immoral activities behind the mask of decency. The more the public is made aware of the actions of these corporations and Capitalism’s amoral nature, the more likely they will be to take action.

 

As with most lists, this post is by no means exhaustive and will be continued in the future- any comments or suggestions are welcome.