I have an inner dilemma that I have been battling for a while now: the question of whether to support global economies or focus on local economies. Brands like American Apparel have brought “made in the USA” to the forefront of our shopping brains, particularly in a season when sweatshops and child labor run rampant in most parts of the world. But shouldn’t we try to provide for our brothers and sisters overseas if we can, too?
This debate reached a head for me when I discovered that a shirt that my organization sells is manufactured in Haiti. My initial reaction was negative- we have been active in Haiti and have seen the conditions of work there, and the thought of promoting those environments sickened me. When I raised my concern, however, I was gently reminded that the company that we work with was committed to high ethical standards and that, because the shirts were made in Haiti, we were providing jobs and income to those people that we love, and helping their economy in perhaps the only way we could from a distance. My mind was eased.
My thoughts are further compounded when it comes to food- while I love eating with the seasons, purchasing local foods, and building relationships with farmers and craftsmen, I also really appreciate many foods that don’t grow locally and items that are manufactured in other parts of the company, or even the world. Things like coffee, chocolate, spices, and tea are cultivated well in certain parts of the world that I just don’t live in. As a responsible consumer, do I forgo these things, therefore saving carbon emissions due to shipping and dedicate myself to eating what my local community has to offer, or do I support these global markets, while perhaps putting the global economy on the back burner?
I don’t know what the answer is, but here are a few things that I am confident in:
-If you can buy something local, do it. Especially when it comes to food. Local farmers and culinary artisans depend on their local economy because, for the most part, they can’t export. Plus, you are getting a better quality food that you can be confident in- less preservatives, easier to check on gardening and farming operations, and good relationships with the people you are buying from.
-Fair trade is a beautiful thing. If you can’t get something locally, fair trade is a great way to ensure that your purchase from the global economy is something that you can be confident is building up global individuals and not causing any injustice along the way. There are many fair trade stores popping up now, such as the 10,000 Villages network, that make fair trade shopping feel like a breeze.
-Sweat shops are terrible. If you can’t guarantee that an item you are buying was made without blood on someone’s hands, you just shouldn’t buy it- at least not with a clear conscience. At times, this requires research not only into a store, but also a specific brand- but it is well worth it to know that you are using your money responsibly, and not to cause injustice.
-If there isn’t a good alternative, try making your own. This is especially helpful when it come to things that are really hard to research, such as cleaning products or cosmetics. There are so many ingredients in these items that its hard to say with confidence if a product is manufactured and sourced responsibly. However, there are countless way to replicate these items at home, where you can source the items yourself and be confident n the products you are using.
-Support your friends. Why buy a grocery store card made in who-knows-where when you have a friend that makes them for a living? Why buy a headband at Target when your friend is upcycling pieces and selling them on Etsy? Maybe you have friends that are photographers, or event planners, coffee roasters, stuffed animal makers, or jewelry designers. Show them love, and be loved in return.
-It is better to bow out of an economy than to stimulate a unjust one for lack of a better option. Thrift stores provide a way to purchase (many times with proceeds to a good cause) without giving any money back to the manufacturers. This can be a great place to find things that are difficult to source well, such as shoes, dressy clothes, or furniture.
While I wish that the answers were more cut and dry, I recognize that these thoughts are just part of the journey in being a Christlike consumer, and I certainly have not arrived at full understanding yet. We have to educate ourselves in order to use our money well- each dollar is a tool we are given to build the Kingdom, and we must take that seriously.