Tuesday, February 04, 2014
When Social Justice and Frugality Collide
Two years ago, I read a book entitled Everyday Justice by Julie Clawson. It's a short little book that provides some practical suggestions on 'living ethically'. Some of the information may be out of date. But it's a good place to start if you're feeling inundated about all of the information on various social justice issues, including modern slavery. I've since started trying to make small adjustments to my buying habits, particularly Fair Trade coffee and chocolate. More recently, I listened to the Planet Money's T-shirt Project podcast series. And they go into much more detail on the economic pressures that are shaping the global textile industry, including the unintended consequences of import/export regulations dating back to the Nixon era. The net effect is that I feel guiltier than ever buying 'cheap' products when I know that the folks who produced the products are not making a fair wage. At the same time, I know that these pangs of conscience are a luxury as well. For folks who are barely making ends meet, urging them to purchase Fair Trade or organic products is akin to saying 'Let them eat cake'. They're concerned about feeding and clothing the children in their own homes, not the child laborers in Bangladesh or C'ote d'Ivoire. So, I try not to impose my choices on others. But the other day, my friend mentioned that she tries to shop at Walmart as much as possible because of their low prices. I mentioned that I avoid Walmart as much as possible because they don't pay their workers a fair wage. And I referenced the book Everyday Justice. Her reply? 'That's why I don't read'. Yes, she was joking, but her response startled me. In point of fact, she exemplifies in many ways what it means to be both frugal and sacrificially generous towards others. But I wonder how many folks have the same mindset as my friend. If you have the luxury of buying Fair Trade items, do you choose to do so? Or do you look for the cheapest products, live a frugal life, and donate the excess income/savings to worthy causes?