Monday, July 11, 2011

Do We Support Oppression and the Destruction of Our Environment Without Even Knowing It?

The Atlantic Monthly recently published an article raising the provocative possibility that our cell phones are fueling a brutal civil in the Congo. It is relatively easy in the United States to avoid thinking about such issues and hope "the market" will take care of such issues. Specifically, thinking that if this is a problem some advocacy group will take up the issue and do something about it. But as consumers we are an important actor in the market. If consumers purchase items at a given price, the producers assume that consumers are satisfied with the product as is. There is no reason for concern or financial incentive for the producer to change its behavior.

In the past, consumers could plead ignorance and argue that there was no way for them to be aware of all of the implications of the production processes used to provide the products that we consume. But now with ubiquity of the Internet it is much more possible to be aware of these issues.

The American market is such a large market that the decisions that American consumers make producer ripple effects and unintended consequences around the globe. I fear that many of the products that we thoughtlessly consume in America support the degradation of the environment, diminish sustainable development, supply profits to human traffickers and lead to the oppression of people around the world. Once consumers become aware of such issues through media such as the movie "Blood Diamond," which brought attention to the issue of "conflict diamonds," they seem to care about the problem and want to do something about it. Unfortunately, our commitment to changing our behavior from what is convenient is not always very strong. And we do not often put in the effort necessary to try to educate ourselves about the unintended political, economic and social consequences of our decisions as consumers. I fear that many of us are unintentionally providing tacit and implicit support for groups and actions that we do not want to support.

We cannot expect every consumer to be omniscient and aware of the source of all inputs and labor practices used to create the products we enjoy. But with the power of the Internet and social media, we can all try to do a better job of educating ourselves about the labor conditions and the impact of production methods on the environment around the world.

Read the article from the Atlantic Monthly:
"Is Your Cell Phone Fueling Civil War in Congo?"