Voting with your feet (and by feet, we really mean money)
January 24, 2017 4:03 AM   Subscribe

In terms of social responsibility - what criteria do you use to determine who deserves your business? More importantly, what sources do you use?

It's easy when people are out in front with their politics, so I don't get gas at Chevron (Koch brothers) or stay/gamble at a Las Vegas Sands property (Adelson's Venetian/Palazzo, Excalibur, New York-New York, Paris). On the other hand, Bill & Melinda Gates aren't really selling Microsoft products any more, and I can't exactly patronize Berkshire Hathaway or Soros Fund Management in my day-to-day life. And philanthropic activities are a pretty distant proxy for corporate social responsibility, anyway.

Short version: I'm tired of funding organizations that are actively trying to make the world a worse place - but apart from a few obvious examples, it's damn near impossible to figure out who's on the naughty or nice list (or I'm not using the right search terms). Help?
posted by NoRelationToLea to Work & Money (17 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Because I use Wikipedia every day (many times often throughout the day) I donate to them monthly. Because I strongly believe in the work that they do, I contribute monthly to EFF.

Ever since John Mackey -- CEO of Whole Foods -- ever since he gave his spiel in Murdoch's Wall Street Journal, I have not given Whole Foods one thin dime, and I never will. I realize that this isn't hurting Whole Foods, but it is helping me; I know I am doing something I believe in. I gave them a considerable amount of cash, and I sure do miss some of the products they stocked, but they are not the store for me.

I don't buy eggs other than from chickens that are not only cage-free but also get to roam around outside, eat a bug or whatever, get the sun and the rain. I don't purchase fish unless it's wild-caught. I don't buy any beef or pork products from grocery stores or fast food joints (though I do slip on the junk food fast food outfits)

I don't click on any fox/murdoch links online. A small thing I know but if *everyone* stopped clicking their links they'd be starved out.

I don't have enough money to do what you are doing but in my small ways I attempt to live to my ideals.
posted by dancestoblue at 4:48 AM on January 24, 2017 [4 favorites]

Buycott might be useful:
posted by slater at 4:50 AM on January 24, 2017

I think the important thing to understand here is that, given the complex nature of our capitalist society, there are very few cases where you can find some kind of objective right and wrong decision regarding your spending choices. The Koch brothers are detestable, but Chevron is a tiny fraction of their portfolio, so they will barely notice your boycott, but the local franchise owner or station attendant might be greatly affected. To look at it the other way, a business that is owned at the national scale by a responsible and progressive owner might have objectionable hiring practices at your particular local branch that you might never know about.

I say this not to discourage you (or anyone else) from using their spending choices to make a difference, but rather to allow you the freedom to make whatever spending decisions you think are right. If it helps you to avoid Chevron and Bounty, then that's a real and tangible benefit - you feel better as a result of your decision! If you know that your local Chik-Fil-A is a minority-owned franchise that employs a lot of single mothers and it pleases you to support them for that, then maybe it doesn't matter what the causes the larger corporate organization funds.

Merely by making conscious spending decisions and not just buying the cheapest/closest thing you can find, you are improving our system by providing incentive for businesses to examine how they choose to operate and the goods they offer.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:22 AM on January 24, 2017 [6 favorites]

I do food coop and fair trade clothing: I do look at labels and buy only from countries that have strong labor laws and don't employ children as workers. I boycott Whole Food and Hobby Lobby. I do let companies that I boycott the reason why I don't purchase from them.
posted by francesca too at 5:43 AM on January 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

I used to have the same problem. Then I started thinking about the fraction of my money that eventually gets to the bad people and the fraction of that money that eventually gets to their bad causes. Then I compared that to the much, much larger amount of money that I can donate to good causes.

So yeah, sometimes a penny or two goes from me through the Koch brothers to Americans for Prosperity. But the monthly $50 I send to organizations like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU and so forth goes a lot farther.
posted by Etrigan at 6:01 AM on January 24, 2017 [7 favorites]

I go the other way--whenever possible, I buy from local businesses and prioritize minority-owned businesses. So for knitting supplies, I go to the local store owned by a very nice African-American lady instead of Big Chain Craft Store. Second best is American-manufactured: Room and Board, for example, provides information about their suppliers and a lot of them are American. Third best is purchasing something that won't have to be replaced: Buy Me Once suggests Darn Tough socks as basically indestructible, for example.
posted by mchorn at 6:09 AM on January 24, 2017 [7 favorites]

I also agree that focusing on positive choices will likely make your efforts to give less money to terrible people less frustrating. Do you have worker cooperative or employee-owned businesses nearby that you can patronize? Can you prioritize shopping with companies that are B corps over those that aren't? Similarly, locally-owned business recirculate more of your money back into your community.

You can also vote with your dollars even if you wind up buying from the big multinationals - Unilever owns lots of companies that test on animals (which I'm not ok with, so won't buy those), but I'll buy their new Ben & Jerry's vegan ice cream to support their expansion into animal-friendly products (and, hey, I like ice cream). Sure, some of my money is going to a huge company that's doing things I don't agree with, but I'm also supporting wider distribution and accessibility of tasty vegan food, which hopefully offsets the damage.
posted by snaw at 7:20 AM on January 24, 2017

I can't exactly patronize Berkshire Hathaway or Soros Fund Management in my day-to-day life.

If you want to patronize Berkshire Hathaway, buy from their subsidiary companies--they own Geico and Dairy Queen among many others.

Public companies have to file proxy statements with the SEC and they will tell you a lot about how the company operates. Pay attention to the composition of management (officers and directors) and to the CD&A (compensation discussion and analysis) in particular.

A lot of activist shareholders file proposals requesting the company to address environmental, social, and governance issues. You can learn a lot about a company by how it responds to those proposals and whether it voluntarily discloses stuff or better yet, voluntarily takes action (for example, a hot topic right now is board diversity). A church brought a proposal asking Wal-Mart's board to adopt policies about the sale of assault rifles. Wal-Mart successfully blocked the proposal, but along the way it decided to stop selling assault rifles. So they can be a real advocacy tool and worth paying attention to.

This is all kind of tedious and I don't know of an easier way that's also reliable. Some of those lists that circulate aren't necessarily accurate and may prioritize different criteria than you do. For example, people put Paypal on a boycott list because a cofounder, Peter Thiel, donated to and supports Trump. But Thiel no longer sits on Paypal's board, and his shares were bought out when eBay acquired Paypal. That list still circulates and I still see people calling to boycott Paypal even though from everything I can see Thiel has no interest in the company. Or, like, boycott X department store because they carry Ivanka Trump's shoe line or whatever. Personally, that is too remote a connection for me to avoid shopping somewhere, so I would at least want to see the rationale behind a company's inclusion on such a list so I can decide for myself if I agree.

My personal approach is just to do my best and not kid myself that my choices are making much of an impact. I try to shop secondhand and locally wherever possible, but that's just so I can sleep at night.
posted by mama casserole at 8:04 AM on January 24, 2017

I shop Black owned as much as I can.

There are lists online for my city and my friends and community talk about this a lot (mostly on local Facebook groups and the like) as well.
posted by sea change at 8:41 AM on January 24, 2017

I try to spend most of my money at non-profits rather than corporations. For me this means a credit union instead of a bank, the YMCA instead of a gym, Planned Parenthood instead of a private practice etc, local co-ops instead of Walmart etc.

It's not a perfect system and I still shop at Walmart from time to time but it works for me.
posted by raccoon409 at 8:46 AM on January 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

I cannot vouch for the quality or accuracy of the article - I'm just starting to look into it myself. But this seems like a decent start - 9 sites that measure company's social responsibility.
posted by 7life at 8:58 AM on January 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

I try to buy durable goods used as often as possible. That way my money goes to a local charity thrift shop or craigslist seller and less stuff ends up in the landfill. For nondurable stuff, I shop at locally owned grocery stores. I do buy food and gas at Costco because they treat their employees much better than many companies.
posted by entropyiswinning at 9:52 AM on January 24, 2017

Two ways: Buy union-made and switch to a plant-based diet.

Plant-based should be obvious - by not participating in the cycle of animal torture you also don't participate in the businesses that support it (huge businesses that also pollute, massively lobby, and operate in secret). And the environmental impact you have by doing it is far more than you'll get from any other switch, with actual lives being saved in the process.

Buying union goes towards supporting workers and the conditions they work in. For example, I recently wanted to switch mobile providers. Providers like Credo, which does social good, still ride on the Sprint or T-Mobile networks, both of which are big union-busters. Instead I went with AT&T, which is the only unionized wireless provider. Like so much else (except the above paragraph), there's bad and good - AT&T has been known work with the NSA, so there's that, but I figure at this point they all do.
posted by homesickness at 10:35 AM on January 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think about this every time I spend, is the short answer. I shop for groceries in a coop to support their land trust and I buy food that is local and organic and sustainably produced. I am an online shopper so I can pick my vendors and avoid the folks that supply box stores. I only buy cruelty free. I am careful about where my clothing comes from. I am equally choosy about my investments. Etc.

You can't keep your money from every bad actor, but conscious thinking about who you are buying from can make a pretty significant reduction in what they get.
posted by bearwife at 1:13 PM on January 24, 2017

I don't buy or use personal/beauty/household items that test on animals. It's not political, but I feel it's an important step to a kinder world. I use an (Android) app called Bunny Free for personal and beauty items, and supplement that with PETA's database for everything else.

And +1 to what homesickness said 😊
posted by PaulaSchultz at 1:14 PM on January 24, 2017

I don't buy motor vehicles in part because it's a clear and direct way to not buy into the oil economy. I "vote with my feet" in this way in part for the joy of it.
posted by aniola at 7:08 PM on January 24, 2017

I try to figure out whether the convenience (of whatever good or service) masks a hidden negative externality or exploitation. Like Uber and Amazon are super convenient, but they exploit their workers, and use contractors/1099-ers as a way to get around labor regulations.
posted by spamandkimchi at 1:10 AM on January 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

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