A Strategic Approach to Boycott Human Rights Violations?
As I talk with friends who are conscious about the origin of their purchases, I find the same dilemma, “We don’t want to support China, but so many of the goods we need originate from there.”
What can I answer? I’m typing this on my Mac, which was designed in America, yet assembled in China. Luckily, larger media outlets such as Diane Sawyer’s World News (ABC) are asking the same questions.
While motivations may vary — some I know want American jobs back in America, others may be of an Occupy mindset, and still others may despise passing money over to benefit communist regimes. I personally, can not stand financially supporting the prison labor of laogai, the rape of Tibet, and the extreme violations of women’s rights via China’s One Child Policy (OCP).
The OCP continues to gain attention from US press and legislators. MSNBC’s Brian Williams recently reported on the US being the new destination of choice for affluent Chinese women to have their babies:
“The United States has become a favorite birth destination for affluent Chinese women who want to have more children but avoid fines and scrutiny by their government. The American born babies are automatically granted citizenship by U.S. law and the parents plan to maintain that status for their children. Once back in China, they never register their babies as Chinese citizens, enabling them to continue to stay off the radar of government officials.”
Legislation was proposed earlier this year by Congressman Chris Smith (H.R. 2121, the “China Democracy Promotion Act of 2011“) that would allow the US to “deny visas to to certain Chinese nationals in the government who promote human rights abuses …This legislation will send a message that abuses by these officials that go unchecked within China will not be ignored by the international community.” Over half of the judiciary statement addresses the OCP as a basis for the Bill.
So the question still remains: the media is addressing the issue, legislature is addressing the issue, as are numerous human rights groups. Yet, we still feel it is hard to find alternatives.
When I did marketing, many moons ago, I was always forced to look at the money trail. Communist, Capitalist — it doesn’t matter, so many general actions are based on consumer transactions. It was that same marketing thought process that led me to another realization: brand building and advertising of years ago does not exist as it does today. What used to be a one way street — of MadMen selling to us in magazines, on radio and on TV has been changed into a two-way street. Brands and retailers clamor to be where there customers are.
Walmart for example, has over 11 million fans on Facebook, Target is just shy of 8 million. And while they post away incessantly about sales, they have introduced a new phenomenon, content moderators. PR Agencies and corporations alike are scooping up content developers and ‘social media wizards’ to help them generate the most ‘conversations’, ‘likes’, and ‘shares’ in the virtual world.
With that encouraged conversation, there comes the two-way street. Gone are the days of sending letters to an invisible ‘customer service agent’ who may just sweep an angry customer letter under the rug, or avoid bringing it up in a weekly meeting.
Corporations are being forced to answer to customer comments, as they are now public domain.
So, what’s a concerned consumer to do? I’ve long dreamed of stores being organized by country of origin vs. by brand — or at least a series of dedicated end-caps that tout locally sourced, Made in America, or in my wildest dreams, even just a ‘Not Made In China’ section.
The two-way street of Facebook has allowed for just that. Recently I started a community on Facebook. I compiled the Facebook URLs for a series of large retailers, and also put together a series of messages to retailers that others could cut and paste onto their pages. The working is respectful, and the questions are honest.
To stores such as Walmart, somehow associated with religious values, I posed questions about forced abortion, and cited evidence that this is indeed, real. (Laogai Research Foundation in Washing DC has stated that the number one reporter of women in violation of the OCP is workplace-based cadres.) Therefore, since Walmart owns their own factories there, are they not, in essence supporting (or at least condoning) the mistreatment of their female workers?
In a recent post onto Walmart’s Facebook page, I posed this question:
Dear sir/madam:I am curious what percentage of your stores’ products are of American origin? I think it is extremely important that retailers contribute to the domestic economy and support brands that create domestic jobs. I am concerned about the number of products that are Made in China — the workplace in China is one of the leading enforcers of China’s One Child Policy, which I view as a massive human rights violation against women. Women are subjected to forced sterilization and abortion. Given the Walton family’s religious beliefs, I do not understand supporting forced abortion?
And received this response:
Hi Heidi, thank you for inquiring about the origin of our merchandise.
We estimate we have over 100,000 suppliers currently in the U.S. Food (grown and manufactured) is a category for us that we estimate is over 90 percent U.S. sourced. Additionally most of the paper goods (napkins, toilet, paper etc.) household chemicals, soap, paint, tires, and other categories of merchandise are sourced from the U.S. Walmart is also playing a key role in helping U.S. manufacturers introduce their products in to the global marketplace by selling them in our 4,000 Walmart stores outside the U.S. Not only do new markets provide opportunities for products like Washington apples, Idaho potatoes and Wisconsin cheese, Walmart is partnering with U.S. manufacturers to meet its own sustainability goals as well. For example, we are working with GE to provide the latest energy efficient LED lighting; purchasing wind turbines manufactured and exported by California-based Clipper Windpower Inc; and partnering with Lennox Industries to furnish Canadian and Puerto Rican stores with high-efficiency rooftop heating and cooling units manufactured at the Lennox plant of Stuttgart, Arkansas.
As the United States continues to build its trading relationships around the world, it opens the door to new opportunities for job growth and innovation for U.S. businesses.
As others joined in the questioning, specifically in regards to the abuses of women, we received this response:
Thank you for the questions…and good questions at that. And unfortunately, none that I can currently answer. I have forwarded your comments to the appropriate team for review. I will post any and all information that I get back. Thanks again…
My last response was this:
Consumers should be able to choose, in clearly labeled store sections. And corporations as powerful as Walmart should leverage their buying voice.
China’s OCP is well documented, as are instances of forced abortion, or worse yet, babies being murdered after they are born. If the store’s core values are against this, it is in the rare position of standing up to this policy. Buying power speaks loads, and if retail buys were cut, then the CCP would feel the pressure to stop abusing women.
If retailers can be engaged in public forums, to hear what the public wants, then their buying patterns would need to change to meet that demand. After all, if they don’t buy Made in China, then you don’t have to.
I would encourage readers to engage retailers on the two-way street. See more messaging and contact information here (and please add your own messages and responses!)