Workers on strike with picket signs

Put your money where your morals are

Sure, we’ve all heard about the woes of factory farmed animals, the industrialization–and Monsantoization–of agriculture, and the destruction of unsustainable fishing. In an ideal world all of us ethically aware humans would avoid mistreating the animals we eat–or stop eating them altogether, not buy fish that’s in danger of being over-fished, and not eat vegetables and fruit shipped from across the world, genetically modified, or laden with chemicals. But that’s not what I want to discuss today.

Let’s say that you’re the most ethical and ecologically-aware person you know: you shop at Whole Foods, you only buy fair trade coffee from independently owned shops, you have a community supported agriculture vegetable and meat share, and you only eat at farm-to-table restaurants. You’re sure you’ve prevented all sorts of bad karma from coming your way–until you start talking to the employees at the grocery store, the coffee shop, and the local cafe. You find out they’re not being paid living wages, never given raises, and have to live without sick days and health insurance. Bad karma is resilient: your ethics ego has just been dealt a major blow.

I wish the incidence of employees not being paid living wages or given benefits–including paid sick days and holidays–wasn’t a problem. Unfortunately, it’s a huge problem. That’s why there’s the Fight for $15 movement. That’s why Walmart workers went on strike. That’s why Whole Foods employees and bookstore employees–at an independently owned bookshop no less–went on strike. If you’re walking around believing you’re a good person, but forgot to check in with the cashier at the coffee shop you frequent as to whether she can afford her rent, you’ve got another thing coming. Time to start putting your money where your morals are.

The Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice in Madison recently published The Just Dining Guide, which is a start. Of course it’s city—and food establishment–specific. So, without a guide, how will you know if you’re supporting an ethical business? Ask. Yes, ask. Talk to the employees. Behind the uniform and the fake customer service smile, they’re people. Ask them if they’re offered health insurance, paid leave, and a living wage. Are they working on a holiday or a weekend? Ask them if they get extra pay. If it turns out they don’t? Spread the word and stop frequenting the establishment. Or, if you’re feeling gutsy, let the owners know why you’re not buying from them anymore.

The cup of coffee–or groceries, or clothing, or books, or whatever–can’t be worth buying from a place that mistreats its employees. They’re human too and deserve the same treatment–and benefits–that you do.

 

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9 thoughts on “Put your money where your morals are

  1. You are basically advocating an embargo against establishments where these people work. Let’s assume you are successful, and consumers stop shopping there, then what? You put these people, you are trying to help, out of work. I presume this job is the best they can do, otherwise they would have left. Is the unemployment line better than the job they have now?

    I get it. Things are tough right now and people are hurting. It is only natural to want to help them. But, tell me, who really defends the workers? I submit that it is their current employers. And, far from being chastised, they should be commended for stepping up and giving these people the best opportunity they currently have. We need more employers just like the ones we have now.

    The solution? A vast reduction in government taxation, regulation and compliance requirements. Government causes poverty and unemployment, businesses produce wealth and opportunities. Not the other way around.

    Peace.

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    1. Thanks for expressing your opinion on my post, but I have to disagree. It sounds like you’re advocating trickle-down economics on amphetamines. Since trickle-down economics hasn’t worked for the last 30 years, I don’t think a more amped-up version will work better. Another thought: maybe businesses that can’t afford to pay a living wage just shouldn’t be in business.

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  2. Supply and demand. And giving everyone a good education won’t help things: there are just too many people – the number is increasing faster than the job market for full-time jobs, and the job market is itself being artificially juiced by government policies that in the end are counter-productive, and ruinous to our climate and environment. Consider India and see what another few decades of irresponsible breeding will do for us, too. (Immigration is a factor, but the problem would still exist even if immigration were to stop.)

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    1. I don’t think population increase–at least in the U.S.–is the problem. I don’t know the stats offhand, but I don’t think we have a population boom here. I think our birthrate is declining. The problem is employers need to meet a minimum expectation of employee treatment, or the burden falls to the tax payers. I don’t think it would hurt to regulate part-time jobs, contract work, and temporary work more, so companies can’t jump through loopholes to avoid paying benefits and a living wage.

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  3. I agree there’s a problem and agree with the solution – but the whole solution, which includes, as you mention, letting the owner know why you’re not returning. Boycotting can be a good idea, and yes, it can potentially affect low wage earners, but if owners hear from enough customers that their payment practices are hurting their business, they’re going to face a choice: stand by their principles and watch their businesses die a slow and painful death or start treating their employees fairly.

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  4. Beautifully put. I agree that there has to be less emphasis on personal purity (of which veganism is one sort) and more on activist “interventions” such as you’re describing. I used to frequent McDonalds but their masquerading as a company from Luxembourg was the last straw for me. They hide behind the franchise system to avoid blame for low wages – as if franchisees have some kind of natural right to abuse workers. My very first job was in fast food and I will tell you nothing about it is “easy.”

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