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.