Hello. Are you eating a chicken sandwich? Is it from Chick-fil-A?
Oh good: you’re an awful person. Didn’t you hear? Chick-fil-A hates LGBTQ people, and they are a corporate behemoth destroying the lives of each and every queer person in the whole wide world.
Also, if you were going to contribute to the profits of a homophobic corporate empire, you should have ordered waffle fries.
“But what are you talking about, Hannah?” perhaps you are wondering, because you actually do your homework instead of setting Google Alerts for the word “outrage”. “We don’t even have a Chick-fil-A in Grinnell.”
That is… actually a good point. And yet, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr (just kidding, no one cares about Tumblr) have been abuzz with people posting about Chick-fil-A’s CEO Dan Cathy donating millions of dollars to anti-gay organizations. Even after promising to end the donations (maybe sort of the way I promise my roommates to fix the sink or to stop leaving quinoa out), Chick-fil-A backtracked like a first year that accidentally started a PlansWar – “part of our corporate commitment is to be responsible stewards of all that God has entrusted to us.”
This has made LGBTQ activists, pro-equality chicken sandwich enthusiasts, and worst of all, the Internet, very angry. Many people have decried Chick-fil-A and are boycotting the restaurant and its admittedly solid waffle fries, with good reason. Chick-fil-A’s donations to these campaigns are pretty egregious if you are a supporter of LGBTQ people and their basic human dignity. The fact that Chick-fil-A legitimizes these donations using religious rhetoric akin (Todd Akin! Ha, get it?!) to that of the Tea Party, which does not speak for all of those of the Christian faith, is especially grating, not to mention worth mobilizing against.
However.
Chick-fil-A, while its donations inspire a particularly visceral reaction, is far from the only multinational corporation encroaching upon universal human rights. Unfortunately, most companies are just a lot more subtle about it.
Chipotle, a burrito chain that inspires otherwise mild-mannered Grinnell students to freak out at the prospect of eating its burritos, has refused to commit to stop buying from tomato farms where known violations of worker’s rights occur.
Coca-Cola is a leader in busting labor unions worldwide by outsourcing jobs and promoting free-trade agreements, benefits from hazardous child labor in the sugarcane fields of El Salvador and remains complicit in the intimidation and murder of union leaders.
Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite and the apparently real Diet Sprite, are all available in the D-Hall and the Grill. This is in no small issue, partly due to the student body’s unadulterated love and subsequent demand for these beverages, in spite of a student campaign to end Dining Services’ serving of Coke products a few years ago.
Urban Outfitters, a store that as far as I can tell only sells wildly impractical platform sneakers, uses sweatshop labor and frequently releases clothing with inflammatory commentary on them, including a recent t-shirt that referenced the Holocaust.
Consumer activism is a powerful tool. However, we also have to consider why certain campaigns get national attention and others do not. Chick-fil-A’s openly homophobic policies and use of rhetoric associated with the Religious Right (many liberals, and many Grinnell students’, favorite villain) made it easy to mobilize irate young people who have Facebooks and opinions.
I’m not saying that practicing consumer responsibility is easy: by nature of the problem, products made by companies with unethical business practices are often cheaper, and unquestionably ubiquitous. I personally am worse at practicing consumer responsibility than being a vegan, which is to say, really bad at it (remember that time three sentences ago when I said I had a Facebook?). However, even staying aware of your purchasing power is important. Resources like sweatfree.com, the Clean Clothes Campaign, and the Free the Slaves group on campus might be great places to start researching when you have a paper due in a half hour.
If you’re going to forgo a chicken sandwich because of your moral values and commitment to social justice, perhaps it’s also worth reflecting on what other consumer decisions you make each day have an impact on people around the globe, and what you can do to help.
If you want to start by teaching me how to make waffle fries, feel free.