BUY COOP: SHOPPING FOR A BETTER WORLD
By Betsy Bowman and Bob Stone*
Is Entrepreneurship Intrinsically Capitalist?
Globalization -- the attempt to build a human world by spreading US-style market economics -- has failed. A larger percent of humanity is underfed today than when the World Bank and IMF started 60 years ago. If globalization is ruining farmers, polarizing wealth, polluting and depleting the planet, causing war and even hurting foreigner-local relations in San Miguel, what can we do about it? The issue has arisen at events put on by the Center for Global Justice. Infrequently used political power is not enough. How about also exercising economic power? One strategy is to morally choose how and what we produce, what we buy, and how we save and invest our money.
Flooded by cheap, subsidized NAFTA farm products, Mexican farmers are “desperate,” says Alberto Arroyo Picard of RMALC, Mexico˙s anti-NAFTA network (www.remalc.org.mx/). As consumers free to set our own criteria for sustainability, organics, fair trade, responsible consumerism, credit unions, and social investing, we can help. Letā•˙s sort these movements by their criteria.
If you ask for “organic” you’ll likely get chemical-free results of environmentally sound farming but not necessarily under good working conditions. Mexico˙s organic certifier, Certimex, requires soil and watercourse protection. But “organic” can mean selling super-exploited stuff in high-end niches Organic Consumers Association (www.organicconsumers.org) combines “organic” with “fair tradeā” criteria (see below). Luckily for us, a leader of this 600,000 strong group lives part-time in San Miguel, and is encouraging community supported agriculture (CSA) here. New to Mexico, CSA farmers pay infrastructural costs but nearby shareholders buy their crops, picking them up at harvest time. (See www.csacenter.org for a national database of CSAs in the US.)
If you “buy local” you get fresher food, re-circulate community wealth, and short-circuit the globalizing WalMart economy. Campaigns by FoodRoutes (www.foodroutes.org) and Global Exchange (www.globalexchange.org) are gathering momentum. But again: labor relations may be poor.
If you want good labor practices, progressively better ones are implied in these criteria: “socially sustainable,” “sweat free,” “fair trade,” “union made,” and ‘co-op made.” “Free tradeā” also means free of environmental and labor standards. By contrast, “fair trade” labels are backed by certifying agencies and usually mean long-term contracts at above world market prices, without middle men. Mexico˙s Comercio Justo aims to directly help coffee co-ops or family farms. But it requires only 50% of product be from small producers. (www.comerciojusto.com.mx)
The gold standard in labor relations is “co-op made,” meaning worker co-ops where the workers are the owners, democratically run the place, and share all profits. A union wage is still a wage: others profit from your labor. Following Canada, last May the 300 or so worker co-ops in the US, with an estimated 10,000 worker-owners, founded the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives. (www.usworkercoop.org) Mexico is forming such a federation.
Economic power is being used not only to create eddies of humanity in corporate globalization but to move beyond it. Skill banks and local currencies, social change consumerism, alternative or solidarity economies (well along in Europe), and voluntary simplicity movements are all showing that “a better world is possible.”
When we do jointly set and enact criteria for where we spend or invest, results can be dramatic: many civil rights victories and the defeat of apartheid owed much to principled buying and investment. Changing the world with economic power is not easy, cannot be done in isolation from each other, and is not the only strategy needed. But if we band together, set goals and criteria, and examine producer candidates, we can build an economy with a human face. A consumer co-op could find (and elicit) products suited to its criteria. Why shouldn’t we set an example?
*Center for Global Justice, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. firstname.lastname@example.orgInclude the citation below and GEO Newsletter grants permission to copy, use, and distribute this article.
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