What do we have to be thankful for? The economys in the toilet; the Iraq war stinks, and our president is oblivious to the pain and suffering. Global warming is getting warmer, and the electrical grid is falling apart. But lets be thankful for some things:
We have a healthy crop of presidential candidates vying in what could be the freest election in our countrys history. People are giving more to charitable organizations, even while they bring home fewer paychecks. Rockford, in my opinion, is still the best place to live, and this newspaper is still publishing me. So if youd like to give thanks, there is the Mayors Interfaith Thanksgiving service this Sunday, Nov. 23, 3 p.m. downtown Rockford at Memorial Hall. Its always great to see folks from different religions praying on the same stage.
And after dinner well participate in the real religion of America: shopping! Americans have more power than we realize. We can vote for our leaders on Election Day, and we can vote our ideals in the marketplace. What we buy determines how the rest of the world lives. Its difficult, though, to determine if the gift you are about to buy for Aunt Ethel was really made in a sweatshop or prison labor camp. You dont want to buy a present for which someone died in the making. You dont want bloody presents under the Christmas tree.
With all this free trade going on, there arent many restrictions to ensure products are fairly traded. Fair trade means the items came from a cooperative workplace where the people received at least a decent wage to live, and the working conditions dont kill anyone. American prices are too cheap, though, for most shoppers to worry how they get those bargains. Few care whether their products come from Peoria or Timbuktu, from a union shop or a Chinese prison.
Story time: A Korean shirt company set up shop in the free trade zone of Mexico and hires a bunch of cheap female labor. They fill the high class order in six weeks, pack up and leave without paying the women. Capitalism or rip-off? Thats good use of business practices allowed in the host countries under FTAA treaty, says our administration in Washington, and dont worry about the rights of workers who arent American.
Well, I do. I worry that my money goes to support evil pirate capitalists ripping off poor mothers in Third World countries. I want to buy stuff without killing people. I want to know my hard-earned paycheck doesnt deprive someone else of a decent life. In fact, I try to support workers rights with my money, even if it costs a little more.
Thats why I support fair trade instead of free trade.
The holiday season is almost upon us, so here are my suggestions for buying clean:
Dont buy at Wal-Mart. Check for a union label, or at least an American brand. If you buy from overseas, then buy fair traded items.
Stay away from Mallwart. Shop at locally owned stores.
Shop in second-hand stores. You get great bargains, and help recycle stuff away from the landfills. Find those fair trade bazaars in churches, and support the new store in Rockton. Buy from nonprofit charitable organizations, where profit helps the community. If and when you do buy at Wal-Mart (and we all do) then ask them to sell more items made in America. Be a squeaky wheel. And for every Walmart shopping expedition, make two to the second-hand stores. Mission and peace groups are regularly bringing in items made in Third World countries where the people get a good share of the price that you pay. Surprisingly, that doesnt increase the cost very much, and sometimes, its even more affordable.
Have yourself a healthy and significant holiday season.
Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.