Carrotmob is a startup company that unites consumers and businesses with common goals, enticing a business to do something environmentally or socially responsible with the reward of shoppers. I think it is a wonderful idea, or at least one that appears to be newsworthy, as their actions have appeared in rags like Time and The Guardian. On a more individual level, I’ve always been a fan of “voting with my dollar”. When I eat at a non-chain restaurant that serves local produce, I’m essentially saying “your practices are more in line with my ethical principles” and at the same time telling the places I choose to avoid that they are not. Similarly, I choose products that have ingredients and standards I agree with. I know that the parent company isn’t 100% in line with my ideals, but that isn’t as important as telling the company what sorts of products I will buy and which I will not by voting with my dollar. For example, I choose GreenWorks products from Clorox, even though I won’t buy most of their other products. Not everyone has time to hand make their bath products or to preserve food, and not everyone has access to small businesses that do these things. I am lucky to have Prairieland Herbs about an hour away, but that’s an hour away, so I only go occasionally with a friend as a luxury. I can bike to the HyVee (grocery store) and pruchase items that aren’t quite as awesome as those at Prarieland Herbs, but that are reasonably good and still conform to my ethics. This obviously isn’t fool-proof (particularly for me because I want products that were produced with low or no pesticides which means organic, but that don’t specifically say GM-free, which is rare now-a-days), but I think it’s a logical way to interact with corporations in our capitalistic democracy. That’s why I was so confused by an AlterNet article that was emailed to me by a Iowa State Associate Scientist affiliated with the Sustainable Agriculture department a while ago (it’s clean out the blogging inbox time). The theme of Burt’s Bees, Tom’s of Maine, Naked Juice: Your Favorite Brands? Take Another Look — They May Not Be What They Seem is that evil corporations bought all of the wonderful little brands that used to be your favorite, but you’re not allowed to buy them any more because they are evil. The author laments the loss of these brands in amusing ways:
Upon first meeting someone, I can usually tell a quite a lot about them by the contents of their bathroom. The brand I see most often behind medicine cabinets of people I consider to be environmentally conscious is Tom’s of Maine. What Tom’s says to me about the person is that they are willing to spend a little bit of extra cash in order to take proactive steps to help green the Earth. Well, no more. My bathroom assessments will never be the same. Tom’s of Maine is owned by Colgate-Palmolive, a massive, tanklike company with an estimated 36,000 employees and revenue of approximately $11.4 billion. Its big products include: Ajax, Anbesol and Speedstick. I am only left to wonder, is Trader Joe’s, popularly known to showcase Tom’s of Maine in its hygiene department, just as much in the dark about all of this as I have been? Or is Joe’s simply another conduit for big corporate products?
A few questions to the author before I progress to my point: How many people’s bathroom cabinets do you see upon first meeting them? Wouldn’t the people be more environmentally conscious if they used simple baking soda for tooth brushing rather than expensive products that require packaging? Why pick on Anbesol – do you know of any locally produced oral pain remedies that work anywhere near as well? Are you really so naive as to not know that Trader Joe’s is actually a huge corporation in it’s own right? Ok, now that I’ve gotten that off my chest… I’ll stick with the Tom’s example because it’s a good one. I just don’t understand what the problem is, and that might very well be why I often have difficulty communicating with people who are anti-capitalism. Local and small is nice, but I think it is very significant that a huge corporation like Colgate-Palmolive would find Tom’s to be lucrative enough to make an offer, purchase it, and mass market the products. The result is that many many more people have access to a relatively natural alternative that hasn’t been tested on animals. Granted, there is little transparency that a small company has been purchased by a larger one. It isn’t usually on the products, or if it is there, the print is small. Sadly, they have to do this because so many consumers that consider themselves organic or natural are very superficial in their determination of what is worthy. Tom’s website does have their parent company disclosed in their FAQs, along with an assurance that nothing has changed (aside from their ability to reach into more stores). It would be entirely different if Colgate purchased Tom’s, changed everything behind the scenes, but continued to sell it as if nothing had changed. Some companies simply slap on a “natural” sticker – I think we can all agree that is wrong – but that isn’t the case in these friendly take overs. The shining quality of capitalism is that producers follow the demands of customers. It’s a lot easier to work with the system than to fight it. People demand organic, natural, fair-trade… and they get it! I particularly think it is fabulous that Hershey’s owns Dagoba. With all of the money (power) that Hershey’s wields, they can push this sustainable fair-trade bone-char-free chocolate into places that it wouldn’t have been found before. Consumers that have access can then choose Dagoba over a normal Hershey’s bar. People can choose Burt’s Bees over more chemical laden bath and body products, Kashi over the dyed and sugared alternatives… the result is exactly what a conscious consumer wants! Well, if that conscious consumer is like me, caring more about the people who grow the chocolate, the watersheds that have less pesticides running into them, the animals that do not suffer in unnecessary tests… but thinks “evil capitalism” is a cliche that we should put to bed.