I read with interest Neil Steinberg’s column in the Chicago Sun-Times about boycotts. In essence, he says they do not work because we really do not care. As one who does try to think about the connection between business practices and morality, statements like this make me just a little bit sad. I would like to think the real reason is because it is very complicated to make the right choice. Here is what I mean.
Though I have never eaten at a Chick-Fil-A, I like fast food. I work hard to limit how often I eat it, but I do give in from time to time. (After three weeks in Rome, I must confess my first meal (admittedly at an airport) when I returned was at a Wendy’s.) I like Starbuck’s coffee, though I am the first to admit that I can get pretty good coffee, for a lot less money, at home.
If I listened carefully to Senator Harry Reid, I should be outraged that US Olympic attire was made in China. I guess it is ok that almost all other attire is made overseas, often in poor countries. (Try to find clothing made in the United States. I dare you.) But I guess it is different if you are wearing what we normally wear at a major international sporting event.
I recently read an article (I forget where) encouraging me to buy sneakers that had little or no leather. There was another article (ethicalshopping.com) that suggested there may not be as strong a connection as once thought between local shopping and reducing the carbon footprint.
And none of this touches the issue of trying to determine who owns whom. I may think I am supporting a trendy looking new company, but it may in fact be owned by a large conglomerate. I love Ben and Jerry’s, but it is owned by Unilever, which is not exactly the little business next door. At the height of the BP oil spill, I learned that not all BP stations are owned by BP (or even use petroleum supplied by BP) and that other stations that had no outward sign of being owned by BP actually were.
The point is that it is really not that easy. Shopping is complicated. My impact on the world is something I find hard to be consistent with in my life. For example, there is certainly the impact I have just by existing. Then there is the impact I have in the way I treat others. Then there is the impact I have with how I use my stuff. Then there is the impact I have by supporting (or not) causes by where I eat and drink. My mind is about to explode.
I guess I think all this boycotting and supporting is a way to make us all feel better. I’ll show those left wing commies — I’ll eat at Chick-Fil-A. I’ll show those right wing bigots — I drink at Starbuck’s. Can I just get something to eat and drink?