I have been considering a variety of human rights issues in my shopping habits for a long time now. Due to questionable treatment of employees and pressuring of suppliers to provide goods at prices that undercut all competition (to the delight of most consumers), I have refused to set foot in a Wal-Mart store for over a year now. Friends and acquaintances of mine have also expressed how much they despise Wal-Mart, but many feel they have to shop there because they cannot afford the things they need anywhere else. This claim poses many questions, but entire web sites are dedicated to how much Wal-Mart sucks, so it would be redundant for me to go into this project only ranting about what a terrible company it is.
So what will be my personal commitment in this project? This has been a difficult thing for me to determine because I am a member of a household where two people earn income (mine may not be much, but I do contribute a little bit) and two people make purchases. I cannot dictate what comes into this house and I have to consider the wishes and needs of my family. I have also found that it is difficult to consider the ramifications of each individual purchase when children are whining that they want to go home while I ponder the need for Oreos or Cheez-its.
Unfortunately, I do not live in a bubble. My home and yard are small and could not possibly sustain my family even if I was a master gardener (oh—and in my county, it is illegal to own farm animals on the amount of land that I have). My time is also extremely limited because I am a graduate student, research assistant, wife, mother of two, room parent for the 1st grade, singer, and caregiver for my father. Moreover, I don’t know how to make toilet paper, toothpaste, American cheese, socks, SD cards, video games, Barbie dolls, etc. I am very glad that there are people who know how to make these things and do so for me. However, it is very bothersome to me that many of these items are made by people who could never afford to purchase them for themselves. My “simple pleasures” seem preposterous when I consider the poverty, repression, and destruction that might go into creating them for me.
So who makes the goods that we purchase? Where do they come from? Why are they available for so cheap? My contribution to this project will be to choose an item each week that my family uses and “cannot live without” and determine (as best I am able) its journey from raw materials to my home. Authors (i.e. Michael Pollan) have written entire books with similar themes, so this will not be an in-depth analysis, but I hope it will raise awareness about where our goods come from and how our need for things affects people around the globe.