Over a lovely Christmas dinner, our family had a long discussion yesterday about the lack of products made in the USA, and how impossible it feels to shop for gifts that help American workers. And indeed, when I look at my Christmas gifts (thanks, family!) I see nearly everything made somewhere else while millions of US workers are unemployed.
It confirmed to me something that has been percolating in my mind for 2-3 years now – that it’s extremely hard to ensure that your spending matches your values.
Did that coffee grinder I bought cause a Sri Lankan to lose a finger in a factory accident? Did my shirt help fund attacks on gay men and women in unfriendly countries? Was toxic waste dumped into the ocean because I bought a lamp?
I care about a wide variety of things – workers’ rights, LGBT equality, the environment, and so much more. But when I go to the store, I dispair a little in the fact that it’s nearly impossible to know whether I’m helping or hurting those things I care so deeply about.
This is a problem that continues to go unsolved, and there’s a growing desire by people to know that their purchasing behavior isn’t causing harm throughout the entire supply chain. Even so-called Fair Trade products, which I gladly spend more money on, aren’t immune to problems. Victoria’s Secret touts their participation in Fair Trade and organic cotton, but as we’ve recently seen, their cotton is sourced from child labor.
But in a world with 7 billion people, that’s just one example of thousands. And hearing about the Victoria’s Secret child labor scandal makes me feel more connected to the world than ever, yet also fairly helpless in making sure I don’t contribute to the misery of fellow humans worldwide. But how?