Responsible Consumption

"Any idea where the coffee you drank this morning was grown? Did your orange juice come from Latin America? Were your clothes manufactured in a developing country? All of us are global consumers, purchasing items that have arrived in our stores as a. result of transnational economic interconnectedness. And most of us are also global investors: anyone who owns a share of a mutual fund is likely a part owner of some multinational corporation.

"These economic interconnections create specific responsibilities for us as consumers. According to Maimonides, the great twelfth-century scholar and codifier of Jewish law:

" 'One may not buy from a thief the goods he has stolen, and to do so is a great transgression because it strengthens the hands of those who violate the law and causes the thief to continue to steal, for if the thief would find no buyer he would not steal, as it says, "He who shares with a thief is his own enemy." ' (Prov. 2:24)

"As Maimonides articulates, when we pay for a product whose origins are unjust, we enable the injustice to continue and become tainted by the injustice. In a world in which our purchases may go through many hands before reaching ours, we are tainted not only when the seller acquires the goods in an unjust way, but also when any part of the chain of production perpetuates an injustice. For example, if a commercial coffee plantation abuses its workers, our purchase of that coffee represents a form of doing business with a thief. We ought not to be let off the hook because the thief happens to be operating behind a retailer, a domestic distributor, an importer, and an exporter. Intentionally or not, our purchase of unjustly produced goods enables the injustice to continue. And, of course, the opposite is also true: underlying this contention is that every economic transaction is an opportunity to pursue justice and, in the process, to become more just ourselves.

"This means that we need to investigate the origins of the goods we buy and not buy things that were produced unethically. It means that we must ensure that the products we buy are produced using fair and safe labor practices. And it means that we must invest in companies whose practices meet our standards of ethical and responsible businesses, and when appropriate, invest in the companies we criticize in order to help change their policies through shareholder activism.

"In practical terms, if the diamonds that sparkle in our jewelry are 'conflict diamonds' whose international trade fuels many of Africa's wars, we have an obligation not to buy them and instead to support conflict-free diamonds. If Central American farmers work to produce the coffee that we consume, we have an obligation to ensure that they receive sufficient income to support themselves and their families and that their worksites meet basic standards of health and safety. And if we own shares of stock in a company that funds a regime that is violating human rights, we have an obligation to pressure that company to change, and if necessary, divest from that company as a way of signaling our disapproval until such a time that the regime is no longer in violation or the company has distanced itself from the regime.

"By refraining from purchasing items that fuel strife, by committing to purchase fair-trade goods, and by making socially responsible investments, we can move along a continuum toward responsible consumption. Furthermore, the very act of making these commitments enhances both our own awareness of the consequences of our economic decisions and models socially responsible consumption to friends and peers.”