Reading between the labels
By Angela Michielsen
Consumers have power. Using buying power in a capitalist economy as an active way of creating social change and is one of the most underused forms of expression, and yet en masse it is so powerful.
Our economy is built on supply and demand. Wal-mart started carrying organic produce in Canada in 2006 after the company realized the market demand. The fact that the giant retailer is carrying organic produce – food favoured by people who care about the earth, good environmental stewardship, and fair trade – is a laughable concept; their sale of the food is an attempt to portray Wal-mart as having good environmental and ethical standards, a form of green-washing for the benefit of those who demand such products. Considering the environmental damage caused by Wal-mart (as an example, “new stores built [in 2007] alone consume enough electricity to add about 1 million metric tons of CO2 to the atmosphere” – Stacy Mitchell, grist.org) and human rights violations committed in its name (Norway’s federal pension fund dropped its investment in Wal-Mart, citing “serious” and “systematic” human rights violations in Wal-Mart’s supply chain – New York Times, May 4, 2007). Yet Wal-mart has added organic products to its shelves because of consumer demand for the products. Our free market economy leaves business to govern themselves, creating a conscience-less money-making machine. This puts consumers in the position of making the crucial decisions about the products they buy, a power which many people do not exercise.
More than 70 per cent of Wal-mart’s goods come from China; in fact, if Wal-mart were a company, it would be China’s sixth largest trading partner, ahead of Germany, the United Kingdom and Canada (wakeupwalmart.com). The Boycott Products Made in China campaign has listed some crimes that are being committed in China and how buying products made in China supports this corruption. Buying a product made in China supports the “suppression of democracy and freedom, wholesale and indiscriminate use of the death penalty, commercial harvesting of transplant organs of executed prisoners, denial of basic rights to Chinese workers and farmers, nationwide forced abortions and sterilizations, sweeping and brutal repression of all religions, criminal psychiatric abuse of political prisoners, routine torture of prisoners, military occupation and genocide in Tibet, draconian repression in East Turkestan, military expansion and aggression, world’s tightest Internet censorship (and) the largest dealer of “Weapons of Mass Destruction” to rogue states” – to name a few (www.boycottmadeinchina.org).
People suffer when we financially support China’s economy and its present government.
People are suffering here, too, as a result of our actions. Too often we hear of lay-offs in industry jobs and plant shut-downs in Ontario, because domestic companies can’t compete with lower-priced off-shore competitors.
Boycotting Chinese products, as well as most foreign made products, can be very discouraging for consumers but, with some research and sacrifice, it is possible. If everyone stopped buying products made in China there would be no market for products made under the supervision of this oppressive regime.
Support our local communities. It’s better for our neighbours and the environment, too.