Shopping With a (Campaigner’s) Conscience

Here’s an interesting website:

Responsible Shopper

Responsible Shopper reports on global research and campaign information regarding the impact of major corporations on human rights, social justice, environmental sustainability and more.
The purpose of Responsible Shopper is to alert consumers and investors to problems with companies that they may shop with or invest in, and encourage individuals to use their economic clout to demand greater corporate responsibility.

This website clearly contains a wealth of information. But note also that it’s far from unbiased: it’s an activist website with a clear agenda. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Check out this bit from the entry on Wal-Mart:

Unfortunately, Wal-Mart confines its leadership to the realm of sales and in other areas promotes the attitude that virtually everything can be reduced to that which is disposable, whether that means products, workers, or even communities themselves.

Ouch. Not mentioned, here, are the ways Wal-Mart’s low prices benefit working class families, etc…or the range of things Wal-Mart has done over the last year to attempt to clean up its act. Organic food for all? Ring any bells?

Or look at this, from the site’s blurb on Unilever:

Unilever is an international consumer products giant selling tea, ice cream, fabric softener, and much more. In attaining its current status, Unilever has engaged in a range of abuses nearly as broad as its production line. Child labor, unsustainable terms of trade, and corporate influence are among the most troubling offenses carried out by the company.

People who know a bit about Unilever know that ethical assessment of the company is a little more complex than that. For example, Hindustan Lever Ltd., a subsidiary of Unilever, has made a significant contribution in India by addressing two major health concerns that affect a large majority of the country’s poor. 1) it developed and marketed iodized salt to rural villages to help prevent iodine deficiency disorder (which afflicts about 70 million people in India) and 2) it helped reduce incidents of diarrhea by using its distribution channels to promote the idea of handwashing and the use of soap, too.

I guess it’s hard to blame activists for focusing on the negative. After all, it’s not like very many corporations do a terribly good job of presenting a balanced point of view in their Annual Reports. Just remember that with campaigners, as with corporations, caveat emptor.

Thanks to Melissa (who just wrote an excellent M.A. thesis on CSR & International Development) for alerting me to this website and for insight about Unilever.

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