I’m working on the books conclusion and thought I would share a bit on types of consumers. Actually, my intentions are selfish. I wanted to see if anyone else had any types of consumers they would add to the list. Let me know if you have any ideas or if the below passage rubs you one way or the other.
Are we bargain hunters that follow our pocketbooks more than our conscience? If so, we don’t care where or who made our clothes as long as we get a good deal. But some of us don’t have a choice. If we want to clothe and feed our families, we can’t afford to be anything else but bargain hunters. As much as we would like to have the option to worry about a garment worker in Bangladesh struggling to support her family, we are struggling to support our own.
Are we red, white, and blue consumers that, after watching our jobs and those of our neighbors slip away, want to support only American companies? Believe it or not, it’s possible. If so, we support companies like American Apparel, the U.S.’s largest garment manufacturer, which employs 4,000 workers at its facility in Los Angeles. Dov Charney, a controversial figure recognized in The Economist of, “…(having) been called a brilliant businessman, an amateur pornographer, a Jewish hustler and a man with a social mission,” founded the company in 2003. Anti-sweatshop and anti-globalization activists alike have praised Charney and American Apparel for their vertically integrated business model, keeping business in the U.S., and providing his workers with a fair wage and benefits. Charney told The Economist, “I believe in capitalism and self-interest. Self-interest can involve being generous with others.”
Where Charney sees his decision to manufacture in the U.S. as primarily a good business decision, other companies see their decision to sell only products made in the U.S. as primarily an ethical/patriotic one. All-American Clothing Co. – which incidentally is located in Darke County, Ohio, not far from where I grew up – sells solely American-made products online.
Are we conscientious consumers that want to be sure the products we buy were made under good working conditions and the workers are treated fairly? If so, we shop online at places like Justice Clothing, Maggie’s Organics/Clean Clothes, and No Sweat Apparel that ensure us they source from factories that meet our approval.
For most of my life, I have been none of the above. I was fortunate enough to not be restricted to bargains, yet I really didn’t put much thought to whom or where I was wearing. I was the worst kind of consumer – an apathetic one. I knew the people that made my clothes lived difficult lives, but I didn’t think about it.
Now I do.
I believe that we need to be engaged consumers. Until some type of GWC-like labeling system is available, we have to base our purchasing decisions on our own research. We should visit companies’ websites of the products we buy or are considering to buy from to see what kind of involvement they have with monitoring the factories they source from. If they only have a couple of paragraphs outlining their codes and how they self-police their factories, we might want to consider shopping elsewhere. But if they belong to organizations like the Fair Labor Association or have worked with the Clean Clothes Campaign, their factories are inspected by a third party, they have a position or department that handles social responsibility issues, and they acknowledge the challenges of ethical sourcing, we should consider giving them our business. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily guarantee that their products are made under fair conditions, but such actions show signs that the company is engaged.