Recently I wanted to buy some herbal tea in bulk. I did my research on Amazon, found the brand I wanted, and then promptly headed over to the manufacturer’s website to make my purchase. This cost me a little more, but I was happy to pay the extra expense. Why, you may wonder?
Whether we consider it or not, every penny we spend has some effect on the direction our society takes. We can choose to spend our money at businesses that are exploitative and socially harmful, or at businesses that make a more positive contribution to our world. We collectively create the world we live in.
I’ve stopped shopping at Amazon. In some ways the company is wonderful. It’s an amazing example of entrepreneurialism. It offers a huge range of goods, often at significantly lower prices than can be found elsewhere. I have to admit I’ve shopped there a lot in the past. And there’s a benefit to that. I’ve definitely saved some money (and time — let’s not overlook the convenience of shopping from home). In theory the money I’ve saved is of benefit to me.
But there’s a bigger picture too. Amazon thrives in part by employing people at rock bottom wages. In the US, workers are forced to toil in huge warehouses where temperatures can be over 38°C (100°F) in the summer. Many have collapsed with heat exhaustion. The work is brutal, involving constant movement, bending, stooping, lifting, and fast-paced walking for miles on hard concrete floors. Even young and fit employees find themselves in constant pain. Workers are electronically monitored in a way reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984, and even bathroom breaks are strictly timed. Staff have to queue up for long periods of time in order to pass through security checkpoints when leaving at the end of their shifts, and Amazon refuses to pay them for that time, on the basis that it’s not an “integral” part of their work. Is this the kind of world we want to build for ourselves?
There’s also the financial pressure that the company puts on suppliers, including the tactics they used in their recent dispute with the publisher Hachette, such as increasing the shipping times of Hachette’s titles, refusing to take pre-orders, or simply removing the “buy” button. This was all in an effort to force the publisher to drive down its prices.
And then there’s Amazon’s highly effective (although legal) tax avoidance strategies. They’re a company that benefits from the infrastructure and services that taxes fund, and yet gives little or nothing back to the tax system.We have choices. We can choose to support other retailers, online or off. So that’s why I decided to boycott Amazon. I feel better giving my money to a small herbal tea company that, I’m pretty sure, treats its workers with more respect and, like most small businesses, pays into the taxation system. I consider that the extra costs I incur by avoiding Amazon aren’t really costs. After all, if Amazon isn’t paying the taxes that support our national infrastructure and essential services, then someone else is. That someone else is me, and you.
We may think our economic choices don’t make a difference, but as someone who runs a small online store, I have to tell you that that’s not the case. Every order for a CD, or for incense, or for a Buddha statue that we receive on Wildmind’s store is received with gratitude — and sometimes relief. And our suppliers, many of them artisans in the developing world, being paid fair wages for their work, are grateful too.
So this is the point of #ethicalchristmas. Over the next few weeks you’ll have plenty of opportunities to spend your money at small companies, some of whom make a positive contribution to the world. You have a choice. I’d suggest you choose with wisdom, and with compassion. Choose to create a better world.