Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Consumer Social Responsibility

Lately the news has been adamantly following what's been going on in Egypt, and rightfully so. The focus has especially been on social media and how mediums such as Facebook and Twitter enabled the organization  of the movement and the out pour of grievances. However, as we recognize the importance of this occasion we mustn't forget that there are millions of people that have no medium to air their grievances internationally. Ironically enough, some of these people are those that have literally made the social media movement possible by the sweat of their brow. I'm not referring to 'The Social Network,' I'm referring to inhumane, often unpaid labor associated with extraction of the minerals coltan and cassiterite which go into making the motherboards for computers, cell phones and the like. Attached here is an informative video that I encourage you to watch to become more aware of where the product you are typing on comes from: Grand Theft Congo- DRC .

I'm sure after watching something like that you are both disturbed and filled with questions. What can we do about these atrocities that our consumerism obviously help finance!? The clearest, and what I believe is the most immediate and self-disciplined answer, is curb our individual consumption. All to often in 'developed' countries that are distant from the toil, production, and environmental impact of our goods, we think it is okay to purchase recklessly because it 'boosts the economy.' This insatiable habit for consumption is not only likely to get us into serious trouble in the future as resources diminish, but is having deadly effects now, today, in countries across the globe. Take a look at this report on the effects of factories in Lesotho. Levi -Gap Factories Pollute Rivers and Damage Health in Lesotho .

We are not taking responsibility for the consequences of our actions. We want to open up markets and turn everyone into 'effective consumers,' yet we can not even mitigate the effects of our own actions. We blame the corporations and call for corporate social responsibility (CSR), when it is in fact our demand that fueled that irresponsibility in the first place. This is not to say that CSR is not crucial, it is, but the answer is two-fold and addressing and controlling our spending is also a necessary part. We can also pressure our officials, our corporations, our NGO's, whoever will listen, to create a better system of product line accountability. Indeed efforts like this have already been put into motion, such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative: But then we must use it! If the demand is there then supply will follow, we know this all too well. And if laws don't come first let's create a normative movement, entreating people to join PTEP: People for the Ethical Treatment of People!

Paul Farmer is famously quoted in Tracy Kidder's book Mountains Beyond Mountains for saying "I love WL's (white liberals), love 'em to death. They're on our side. But WL's think all the world's problems can be fixed without any cost to themselves. We (PIH) don't believe that. There's a lot to be said for sacrifice, remorse, even pity. It's what separates us from roaches" (Kidder, 40). I recognize this is a very touchy subject, and it often makes people uncomfortable. My response to this... good! Maybe that discomfort will entice some sort of action, rather than compliance; and besides, this discomfort hardly begins to grasp the inhumanity our brothers and sisters in Lesotho and the DRC face.