I had an interesting conversation last night.
I was at my partner's work Christmas party, and one of his coworkers started talking about the power of consumers -- that we could be leveraging our numbers and power to make corporations change by attaching terms and conditions to our purchases, similar to the terms these massive corporations make us agree to all the time. If they break those terms and conditions, then they get punished somehow. Maybe they have to give back our money. Maybe they get audited. Maybe their CEO goes on a (GASP!) unpaid leave.
Now, I am a minor social activist-type, so this conversation should have been my jam, but I am also pretty cynical about change ever happening. Basically, I fight back or boycott once in a while because a) they definitely won't change if I do nothing and b) it makes me feel better in my own little conscience that, at the very least, I'm not participating in the badness.
Rarely, if ever, do I see protest efforts amount to real change. The reason? Humans.
Humans are weird and wonderful, but we are also weird and horrendous. We all think child slavery is the worst thing ever, until we have to buy a new phone. Then, all of a sudden, we just kind of forget it's happening and look for the best deal.
In some cases there isn't an alternative, anyways. If you want to buy new clothing from a company that doesn't use slave labour you basically have the choice of buying from Patagonia (and dressing in hiking gear 24/7), or a handful of boutique manufacturers who handmade their items from recycled goods. Basically, it's $30 per pair of underwear, or badness. And you can never be entirely sure that the $30 underwear is actually ethical, because how do you check on that?
Still, I can't stop thinking about this idea of attaching terms and conditions to my purchases.
What would they be?
Here's a starter list:
NO SLAVERY: Anyone working anywhere on the supply chain gets paid real, living wages. Yes, these are living wages relative to whatever country they are in, but they put all workers on a reasonably comfortable plane of existence.
SAFE WORK CONDITIONS: Nobody working anywhere on the supply chain, in the corporate office, or retail environments is forced to risk their physical health (to a reasonable degree) at work. I say "to a reasonable degree" because any turd-tosser can argue that sitting all day, standing all day, or other basic work-related activities are unhealthy. This isn't about that. It's about forcing people to work without proper ventilation, breaks, lighting, without necessary safety gear, etc.
ZERO HARASSMENT/ASSAULT/ABUSE: Nobody working anywhere for this company, including all the way down the supply chain, is acceptable fodder for harassment, assault, or abuse, whether it is sexual or otherwise. There need to be safe reporting structures and repercussion for the person perpetrating the harassment, not for the victim who reported it.
ENVIRONMENTAL RESPONSIBILITY: Everything must be done to reasonable levels of sustainability, given the product. In some cases, that might mean zero-waste offices, and in others where manufacturing currently requires the use of environmentally hazardous materials, this might mean offsetting activities and investment in research to improve manufacturing in the future.
MEANINGFUL LABOUR: Can I dictate that companies attach some kind of meaning to their work? Sounds like I'm being the summer camp director who gives a list of rules about not going into the woods after dark, and then tries to stop bumming everyone out by saying that the final rule is to "Have the BEST SUMMER EVER! WOO!" But it sure would be nice if people could feel like their work had meaning besides lining some fat cat's pockets.
What else? Should we mandate Casual Fridays? Half days when it rains? Wifi for everyone? Therapy kittens? We can probably put it in there. After all...
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