Is ethical consumption possible?


he has legs but they’re black and its a png lol Photo credit: Ren Rader

Illustration by Ren Rader

This spring, the Student Government Association (SGA) passed a resolution recommending Chick-Fil-A be removed from Revolve in reaction to some students’ protests of the fast-food chain. According to Vox, Chick-Fil-A has donated money to various anti-LGBT causes such as the Paul Anderson Youth Home, a residential home for troubled boys that teaches that same-sex marriage is a “rage against Jesus Christ and his values.” SGA’s resolution was rejected, and the chicken restaraunt remains in Revolve. However, Chick-Fil-A is not the only company students interact with that has a controversial history.

David Spener, professor of sociology and anthropology, said in today’s world, it’s hard to be an ethical consumer no matter what.

“It’s not just a matter of deciding who you’re going to buy things from,” Spener said. “It’s very difficult to buy things and keep your hands clean in that sense because most products that are produced by major corporations have a high environmental impact and are produced under conditions that are less than ideal in terms of workers rights and pay and all of those kinds of things.”

On July 15–16, Amazon held its annual Amazon Prime Day where Prime subscribers get exclusive deals on items online. But while Prime subscribers shopped, Amazon workers across the globe went on strike.

According to Vox, Amazon workers were protesting low wages and poor working conditions including excessive hours, inadequate breaks and overheated factories. The Prime Day strike has evolved into a call to boycott the company completely because of its ties to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) through their utilization of Amazon’s facial recognition technology.

Trinity receives a large amount of Amazon packages according to Carl Jeffrey, mailroom manager.

“A majority of students at Trinity will go to Amazon as a direct source to shop and buy from,” Jeffrey wrote over email. “This would include ordering book rentals, clothing, electronics, room decor, food and health products.”

Junior Arianna Siddiqui said although she believes Amazon is an unethical institution, she still uses their services out of necessity for things like ordering textbooks at a low price.

“Amazon is so heavily geared toward college students because we need it for a lot of [things] and we’re so accustomed to the speed of it,” Siddiqui said. “People do know and still use it, or people are woefully ignorant about it, and I can’t blame them because I’m in that boat too.”

Much of the strain on working conditions in Amazon factories has come from the switch from two-day shipping to one-day shipping, requiring more efficiency. Dennis Ahlburg, professor of economics, said that these conditions are therefore the consumer’s choice.

“If the consumer doesn’t like it, then don’t demand one-day delivery because it’s going to cost more, the speed for the workers is going to be more intense and so on,” Ahlburg said. “A lot of people tend to think, ‘Oh, it’s the evil company.’ No, sorry, it’s the evil consumer. They do it because you demand it.”

Even if students decided to not buy from Amazon any longer, Siddiqui said that all other corporations operating under global capitalism will have negative implications as well. She named Einstein Bros. Bagels as another problematic company students interact with on campus, but it hasn’t gotten as much attention as Chick-Fil-A.

According to the Washington Post, the owner of Einstein Bros. Bagels comes from a family with ties to Nazi Germany. Sophomore Joshua Anaya said it’s impossible to avoid patronizing businesses like these when they’re all that’s provided.

“It’s very expensive to go grocery shopping off campus all the time, especially if you go to Trinity under a meal plan,” Anaya said. “You’re expected to use those meal swipes and dining dollars towards what’s provided to you on campus, which is so limited.”

Paul Wright, director of Business Operations, wrote in an email that any company Trinity’s campus hosts is chosen based on campus feedback. This includes focus groups, surveys, SGA meetings and more.

“We rely on the feedback and purchasing choices of our community to make determinations about vendor participation,” Wright wrote. “In this way, the choices that the members of our community make about how to spend their money and with whom has a direct impact on a vendor’s continued participation on campus.”

Ahlburg prioritizes trying to align consumption with personal values, even if it doesn’t always work. He recalled hearing about the Chick-Fil-A controversy but saw a line out the door of The Commons to buy its food.

“Saying, ‘Oh, Chick-Fil-A is horrible, but let’s go out and buy some anyway,’ To me, that’s not living by your values. That’s just saying the right thing because you want to impress somebody.”

However, Spener said that it’s not always possible to live every aspect of life in accordance with one’s values. Both he and Ahlburg believe that individual action, while it can bring attention to important issues, won’t be the solution to issues like workers’ rights or immigration.

“How many of us as individuals have stopped using vehicles that have gasoline in them?” Spener wrote in an email. “Not many. Could we and still carry on our lives in the way that we do? Not easily. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t put pressure on governments and corporations to, in a systematic way, do things that would help reduce carbon emissions, through policies that would make non-carbon energy sources relatively cheaper than gasoline and that would provide financial assistance and economic incentives to help hasten the transition to clean and renewable energy sources.”

It’s not that students are always picking and choosing which causes to fight for and which corporations to therefore boycott, but many feel caught in an inescapable web of unethical corporations.

“To change these kinds of things, it requires political action, mobilization,” Spener said. “It requires states to regulate the conduct of both consumers and producers.”