New Criticals

Shopping Your Values

Americans have quickly taken to the Internet to conduct most of their shopping online. It first started with clothes, shoes, and other apparel being delivered by large troops of postmen and women, guys in brown, or the not always reliable (monitor destroying) guys. Soon came purchasing for presents and mementos from auction and craft websites. Along with them, in major cities, ordering food online has become the obvious choice in order to not deal with take-out phone operators. Finally in places like New York City services are appearing to deliver toiletries, baby diapers, and anything that urbanities don’t want to log around from the closest supermarket or pharmacy.

However, the brilliance of the online shopping is not the ability to deliver anything within a couple of days or even to provide competitive prices. The real success is that online stores have found how to cater to niche desires in a highly segmented market. This has allowed for companies like and other online stores to specifically serve the earth-vegan-crunchy granola shopper (like me) by providing options that are labeled vegan, GMO free, PETA certified, fair trade, or b corp certified.

The various certifications are aimed to help shoppers to buy their values. The labels allow customers to support companies that are committed to specific causes and provide them with some piece of mind that their choices are not only capital driven. However, these labels, like previous ones based on religious preferences of consumption, fail to address holistically various issues at the same time. They serve as a pinhole to light one specific issue about our consumption, it being animal well-fare, fair payment of trade (but not labor), or sustainable sourcing of raw materials.

Recently a new certification has appeared, for companies interested in more than just the profit, and with a commitment to environmental sustainability. B corporations are encouraged to comply with a set of guidelines to ensure their consumers that their services or products are in some way not further damaging the ecological environment. The label is now associated with some of the most trendy companies and a new wave of consumers are seeking their products to placate their worries of environmental collapse.

However, the most disregarded aspect of consumption in the online era, and perhaps since the industrial revolution, is the means of production. While fair trade labeling addressed some of the issues over wages paid to farmers for their work in the fields of coffee and of other commodities. No single label in the market today ensures that products are produced or manufactured by employees paid a living wage or have the most basic workplace safeguards. Places like American Apparel have tried to address this issue, with their label “no sweatshop labor” and “made in the U.S.A.” Still, no national movement exists to ensure fair standards of payment for agricultural migrant laborers, food service employees, and other non-national workers.

While labor laws should address the issues of fair payment, workplace protection, sick leave, social security, non-discrimination, and equal pay for both genders. The food industry lags behind in addressing the sourcing of agricultural products, which are sold at unreal low prices subsided by a large migrant labor force normally not afforded benefits and without the most minimum protection for their labor.

Congress and the president continue to stall negotiations and action on the regularization of status of millions of undocumented migrants in the United States. Therefore, the situation of millions of workers remains precarious. However, for voters discontent with the gridlock in the legislative process, perhaps a quick fix to ensure that workers are being remunerated fairly will be the creation of an immigrant labeling.

Such a label, would allow us to shop our values, while a permanent fix of the migration problem is solved. For non-citizens, without the power of their vote a label would give the opportunity to support only those companies, brands, stores, and restaurants that fairly pay their employees and provide benefits regardless of immigration status.