Ethical Consumerism: Reconciling Politics and Shopping

Last week, equality advocates discovered that Chick-Fil-A’s charitable arm, the WinShape Foundation, specifically bars homosexuals from attending or using their retreat facilities. Their statement on the matter was “WinShape Retreat defines marriage from the Biblical standard as being between one man and one woman. Groups/Individuals are welcome who offer wholesome, educational conferences and programs that are compatible with Biblical values and WinShape’s purpose.”  At this news, many gay-rights advocates are calling for a boycott of Chick-Fil-A. What’s a good old southern gal who believes in marriage equality, but really loves her fried chicken and pickles supposed to do? And what effect do moral boycotts have, anyway?

Whether you call it ethical consumerism, moral boycotting positive buying or any other name, most people practice some form of selective shopping. My dad tries to buy as much as possible American made, refusing to buy anything Made in China unless otherwise unavoidable (specifically requested gifts, things not available any other way, etc). One friend refuses to buy anything Gap corporation because she doesn’t agree with their practice of making lesser quality clothes specifically for outlets. Even vegan and vegetarianism (for non-dietary reasons) are forms of moral boycotting. In the current activist led political times, it seems every week there’s a new call to action for a moral boycott of something or other. Check out this list from Ethical Consumer.org and see if you can shop anywhere without stepping over a moral picket line.

Chick-Fil-A has been under fire for their traditional values stance (some college students even protesting to have franchises removed from campuses), but seems to not have gained a huge amount of traction because, well… they’re closed on Ckickin SandwichSundays. It’s not like they’re hiding their values. Target, on the other hand, drew ire from MoveOn.org when they donated to a group running ads for candidate Tom Emmer, a Republican with a very strong anti-gay stance. This movement drew a lot more national attention because of the betrayal felt by many equality advocacy groups. Target has long been a supporter of LGBT organizations and a face at Pride celebrations and achieved a 100% rating as an employer from the Human Rights Campaign for 2009. Target defended the donations, saying that they supported Emmer’s stance with regards to businesses, not social issues. They also revealed that their Political Action Committee ensured that they split donations to political campaigns evenly between parties. On the right side of the divide, a movement was started back in 2007 to boycott Bank of America because of their willingness to open accounts for illegal aliens.

In many of these instances, whether the company comes off as the bad guy or not depends a lot on what and how much news you read. An article posted in The Chronicle of Higher Education pointed out that these moral boycotts aren’t even so much about hurting a company in their pocketbooks, but more about controlling the narrative. It’s hard to imagine a boycott of your local gay club for only hiring LGBT employees or of Target for supporting democratic candidates gaining much traction on the left side or boycotting Bank of America for charging outrageous fees to those illegal immigrants gaining traction on the right.

The Chick-Fil-A controversy provides a particular quandry for me. Besides growing up a southern gal, Chick-Fil-A part of my fast-food rotation, I was good friends with the daughter of the local franchise owner in high school. While CFA is a faceless corporate entity for many, not for me. I’ve seen a friend that would deliver to me across the mall, even though they weren’t supposed to. I’ve seen the goodness of the people, their home always open to a girl who needed a place to stay on a school break. I’ve seen friends benefit from the job opportunities the stores provide, where a 16 year old can start at the fryer and make their way up to assistant manager by the time they’re in college if they work hard enough. I’ve seen the scholarships they provide to students working there to assist in furthering their education. It’s not as if the company is secretive about their traditional values, as evidenced by the wanton hankering I get on Sunday for a chicken biscuit. Unfortunately, these traditional values do sometimes extend to fundamental views on homosexuality. So, do I boycott them for remaining true to what they believe? For me, that’s the same as saying that because a dear friend of mine has religious views and values different to mine, I should cut all association with them. A world of people like that would be a world of close-minded ignorance, exactly what I’m so passionate about fighting.

I’ll keep enjoying my chicken and waffle fries and I’ll also keep fighting for a world where the definition of “traditional values” includes same-sex couples raising loved families. One does not reflect  or depend on the other.

(Image: Ckickin Sandwich, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from jreed’s photostream)

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Crystal Coleman

Florida girl living on the west coast. During the day, I consult in social media and community management. I have a really cute puppy (Elphaba) and a British husband (I keep him for his accent) as well as an unhealthy relationship with parentheses. http://thatgirlcrystal.com

17 thoughts on “Ethical Consumerism: Reconciling Politics and Shopping”

  1. I have to say this article leaves me feeling pretty dissatisfied. The idea of reconciling politics and shopping is nice (and more than nice, a worthy endeavor), but this doesn’t really some like reconciliation so much as justification for a particular behaviour that is important to a particular identity. What I’m hearing is “well my friends work there and they’re good people (plus it tastes good) so at the end of the day I’d rather not stir the pot because then the world will be a big mess”. Is this an oversimplified interpretation? Maybe, and I’m open to being told otherwise. But being open-minded does not necessarily mean that we should condone particular attitudes by confirming them with our consumer choices. Where’s the integrity in that? I’d say, in this case, if a person actually believes in the right to choose/be a particular sexual orientation, then put your money where your mouth is. Seems like a whole lot of cognitive dissonance going on there.

    1. I should add that many of my consumer choices don’t coincide with my ethics, but I don’t gloss it up as a peaceable alternative to conflict… I’m a hypocrite, but I’m willing to deal with the self-loathing that comes with it and hope, and seek, and often still fail, to make better choices every day.

    2. What I’m hearing is “well my friends work there and they’re good people (plus it tastes good) so at the end of the day I’d rather not stir the pot because then the world will be a big mess”.
      Rather than an oversimplification, I see it more as not putting my money where my mouth is, but putting my money where it can actually do some good. Will me, not eating at Chick-Fil-A do anything to change their views? Not likely. So I don’t see it as a worthwhile way of supporting that cause to me. Voting for pro-LGBT candidates, speaking openly about my views to friends and coworkers and welcoming debate with those that disagree with me are the ways I try to effect change.

      But again, like you, I’m okay with the amount of perceived hypocrisy in that.

  2. I really appreciate the mentions of class and opportunity in this article and its comments. I’m from a wholly Appalachian state, and a very impoverished one to boot, and I’ve discovered that boycotts in my area only took hold when we had the luxury (such as it is) of continuing them. It becomes much more difficult to boycott Target and Walmart when they are essentially the only two options within twenty-five miles for daily necessities. This isn’t, of course, to say that I don’t support the moral boycott – I do, wholeheartedly. It’s just that occasionally the sacrifices they entail go further than in a more diverse area.

    Or, to be a little more succinct: I have no problem boycotting American Apparel – I find its practices abhorrent and have no need of its clothing. But I knew many people who could not afford to shop at more ethically sound places than Walmart. I think that in such a dicey situation it’s essential to find other ways to fight back.

  3. I would be interested to know if there is any data regarding hiring practices at Chick-Fil-A?

    Does this company discriminate against gay and lesbian potential employees and current employees?

    Every one was very aware of Chick-Fil-A’s outspoken views regarding religion prior to this new development. I personally will be boycotting Chick-Fil-A for the time it takes them to change their stance on their social issues. Admittedly this is easy for me to do, this wasn’t a fast food restaurant I frequented often. More importantly I will boycott Chick-Fil-A because their opinions/beliefs are ingrained in their social business practices and not a fiscal business practice. I feel strongly about equal human rights.

    Target is still in the gray and I will research Domino’s Pizza. These companies are just the first of the companies we are hearing about regarding these issues between the public demanding equal rights being promoted by the businesses they are giving their money to the business declaring their rights as a company.

  4. “So, do I boycott them for remaining true to what they believe? For me, that’s the same as saying that because a dear friend of mine has religious views and values different to mine, I should cut all association with them.”
    Actually, if it came out that a dear friend of mine thinks I’m horrible and going to hell because I’m bi, yes, I would cut association with them (probably after telling them exactly what I think of their beliefs) — I don’t want to be around someone who doesn’t accept me, or the hundreds and hundreds of other people who are like me in that respect.
    I’m not implying you’re wrong to not boycott them (that’s your own personal thing), I’m saying that whether you do or not, there’s a huge difference between being open minded and respecting other people’s beliefs, and conflating stubbornness, hatefulness and closed-mindedness with a good quality, like some sort of high-minded loyalty to one’s beliefs.
    I think it would be interesting to explore how class plays into boycotts — you bring up a good point about teenagers needing a place to work and such. It’s a lot easier to boycott certain restaurants and stores if you’re living in a city with tons of options for where to work and buy clothes and food, but what if you’re living in rural Georgia and only have a Walmart to shop in? I do think that’s something that tends to be ignored when people talk about boycotting companies.

    1. I think it would be interesting to explore how class plays into boycotts

      Definitely and that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms really. The idea of the kind of boycotts we’re talking about is such a privileged class issue to begin with. Your example of rural areas is perfect: yes, Wal-Mart kills small businesses, yes it buys a lot from China, but when you’re making minimum wage or less and there’s nothing else around, what choice do you have?

  5. I know what you mean when you talk about the quandary of Chick Fil A.
    Chick Fil A is associated with good memories for me. Early mornings on road trips with my family; driving to the nearest big city just to get some of those sauces; the best hangover remedy.
    Not only that, it is one of the few places to get food (that isn’t the cafeteria) on campus. As much as I try to bring lunch, I forget a lot.
    So when I get it, it’s a desperate time.

  6. I have a list of my own personal boycotts. Currently Target is number one which is a tough one because they are my go-to place for school snd home shopping. I’m still boycotting Domino’s Pizza, but truth is I haven’t kept up to date whether or not they still support Operation Rescue and similar pro-life groups.

    All of us make choices for our own reasons. Bottom line should be what your conscience tells you.

    Question for me isn’t just where to draw lines, but also how long do I maintain a boycott.

  7. I can appreciate one persons belief opting in or out of shopping at certain locations.

    I don’t shop at American Apparel for this reason–the idea of lining the coffers of a man who voilates women, both physically and verbally is not one I want to condone.

    On the other hand I never bought into the Target boycott. A minimal amount of research show(ed) that they gave far more money to education, LGBT efforts, local communities etc than they ever did to PACs of those who don’t support some of the aforementioned items.

    Whether any of us like it or not (and I’m swaying towards the not), a company is run by its bottom line. If supporting candidate X over Y is going to bring more money into the corporation, then they’re going to take it.

    American Apparel, on the other hand, isn’t playing grabby hands, suck my dick back room office politics to gain money..it’s merely for power.

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