In a post-Citizens United country, what you purchase day-to-day has political repercussions. However, you do not need to be a wealthy consumer to make a difference. Below are five pieces of information that will help you to spot corporate villains and heroes in the corporate world. With this knowledge in hand, the next time you walk into the store you can be a superhero shopper:
1. Start with choosing a good store to shop at. The biggest corporate villain on the block is Wal-Mart. Its lobbying efforts reached close to $8 million in 2011 (OpenSecrets.org). Most of this money is to prevent Wal-Mart employees from unionizing in the United States. In China, however, Wal-Mart works with unions; the first union-negotiated contract resulted in an 8% pay increase for workers in 2008. Shoppers beware, the state often foots the bill for Wal-Mart’s low prices. In California, for instance, retail workers at Wal-Mart were 38% more likely to be on public assistance than workers in similar jobs at different companies.
2. Trust labels, not logos. Buying Brawny paper towels generates profits for Koch Industries, a major lobbyist against climate science and against climate change regulations, such as curbing greenhouse gas caps. For roughly the same price, you can buy Seventh Generation paper towels. Seventh Generation not only has environmentally friendly practices, but also offers its employees decent wages and health insurance. While it is more difficult to get information on companies’ treatment of workers, you can get an idea of their environmental status by looking at the amount of recycled materials that went into the product.
3. Beware of the nice sounding subsidiary. If you are wondering whether buying Tom’s of Maine places you in the shopping superhero running, you are mistaken. Tom’s of Maine, Colgate, Speed Stick, and Ajax all are owned by Colgate-Palmolive, which Ethical Consumer rates “very poor.” It scores particularly low in environmental reporting and animal testing. However, Arm& Hammer has a solid standing on environmental issues, and offers deodorant and toothpaste products.
4. Remember that most companies have some issues. Shoppers who get a latte with anti-minimum wage rhetoric will be pleased to know that their purchases pay the salary of Whole Foods’ CEO John Mackey, an unabashed libertarian. Of course, Mackey’s political contributions pale in comparison to Wal-Mart’s millions spent on candidates.
5. Finally, when you are calling someone from the store, remember that cell phone companies take in huge profits. Some, like AT&T, funnel millions of those profits into lobbying efforts. John Boehner topped AT&T’s list, receiving over $99,000 from the company. Other companies are just as politically active; Credo Mobile’s major selling point is actively donating to progressive organizations.
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