When we swipe our cards at the supermarket or our favorite retailer, not much thought goes into the repercussions, but, like a butterfly flapping its wings can cause an earthquake half a world away, our spending reverberates around the globe, effecting people we will probably never meet (in this life, anyway).
Proverbs 29:7 says “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.” This verse, viewed in the light of increasing globalization, broadens our responsibilities considerably. Our actions at the register, even seemingly innocuous ones, can serve to fuel the oppression of others (though, in all likelihood, we will never see it).
Though solid data is hard to come by (for obvious reasons), experts estimate that there are between 158 million to 250 million children (under 14) working an average of 10 hours a day for a median income of $1.06 per working day. Conditions in these foreign factories are often inhumane, with workers forced to log 100+ hours a week in dark, filthy surroundings to feed our insatiable appetite for cheap, disposable goods.
Some argue that the exploitation of foreign labor is actually a good thing, providing jobs where there would be none and bolstering the economies of third world countries. While this may be the case, it is our charge as Christians to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8-9). To take this verse seriously, we must be vigilant to make sure the goods we buy support a living wage and acceptable working conditions.
Doing this is easier and cheaper than it sounds. More corporate responsibility doesn’t always mean higher prices. The sites below are awesome tools to help you sort out the companies that are doing the right thing and those you should avoid.
1. Good Guide
Good Guide gives you a number rating based on three criteria: Health, Environment, and Society (use of sweatshops, poor working conditions, etc). It currently covers a huge variety of products, from Food, Personal Care, Household Chemicals, to Pet Food and even cell phones.
Good Guide is extremely well designed, easy to use, and offers detailed breakdowns of the contributing factors to their ratings and where the data comes from. Users can post their own reviews, comparison shop for the best price on products, and Good Guide even has an iPhone app, so you can take the ratings with you when you shop.
Ethical Consumer is a newer site that aims to be the one stop shop for ethical shopping. It offers free buying guides for a range of products, downloadable reports, and a ton of articles with tips on responsible shopping.
Knowmore is a wiki-powered web site that aims to track ethical issues surrounding the world’s biggest companies (the site is working toward its goal of covering all members of the Fortune 500). Knowmore is powered by MediaWiki, the same software used by Wikipedia, and rates corporations on their political influence, worker’s and human rights, fair trade practices, business ethics and their impact on the environment.
Thanks to Account417 blog reader Kristin Park for this one! Free2Work is an app for your smartphone that focuses on child labor. You can scan a barcode in the store and see the manufacturer’s track record graded from “A” to “F”, giving you on-the-spot voting power with your money.
Crocodyl is a wiki-style corporate information portal that offers information on a large number of corporations. The site doesn’t provide scores or ratings, and the information isn’t as detailed as the entries on Knowmore, but it covers a huge number of companies and does give quality, trust-worthy background info on things like corporate accountability, finances, labor practices, and environmental and product safety.
The site also provides links to watchdog groups, related reading, and the ability to search for companies by issue (e.g., you can get a list of all companies with alleged human rights violations.)
Transnationale is an ugly site that’s a bit hard to navigate, but it has loads of depth and has been around for 13 years.
What do you think? Do you make purchasing choices based on a company’s human rights record? Do you think Christians should be concerned with this? How does your favorite company stack up? Let us know by leaving a comment below.