Outrage had broken out on campus once again. Yet this time the squares were empty and the lecture halls were silent. A statement was vigorously typed on a keyboard somewhere, but there was no one to hear the clatter of the fingertips of an angry Essex student pressing on letters forming words, sentences, even paragraphs of indignation at the world, the Student’s Union and fellow students that had lost their will to protest and organise.
But it was summer, and everyone was preoccupied, too lazy or too busy. They were on holiday, and it seemed inappropriate to consider the fact that on holiday the world may be a bad place.
At least this is what I imagined happening, when I logged onto my Facebook to find out my Student’s Union was planning a Starbucks on campus. At first I wasn’t quite aware what was being planned and how far the project had already advanced. However, soon it became clear that a large number of people were against this new development. And as easy as it was to click no on the survey posted by the Student’s Union, I wanted to explore this further. After reading the statement put out by my fellow students I immediately knew I would vote no on the suggestion and further that it meant an end to my occasional Starbucks pit stop at the airport. But it also made me feel ashamed that I needed the facts to be thrown in my face to break out of a paralysis of buying without thinking, of disregarding corporate responsibility for comfort.
Starbucks has an awful track record in terms of both how they treat employees and farmers, as well as the rest of society by failing to pay tax. I knew they were bad, but I never bothered to look into how bad. I just rarely bought their products. However this whole incident got me thinking more about corporate responsibility, as well as our responsibility to at least find out what we are supporting with seemingly meaningless decisions. Just as I would not buy from a company that was homophobic, it seemed hypocritical to then buy from one that was allegedly responsible for wider human rights violations.
After 3 carefully defined Google searches I had all the information I needed to be convinced of the end of my Starbucks dalliances. If there is one thing my IB high school program taught me, it was to always critically evaluate information. This is why I rarely take statements written by others for granted and want to find the information and reasons behind my actions on my own. I just wish I made the effort more often. With the issue of corporate responsibility, as important as it was to many, especially in an educated and equal-minded society in which I was raised, it seemed the point was not so much that you had to genuinely care, but in this day and age it was common courtesy to at least pretend. Being able to hold a conversation about human rights and the atrocities people were subject to in the Third World was enough to show you cared. But it shouldn’t be.
For the first time in, well maybe ever, I gave myself a project. I was going to find out where my clothes came from. After the factory accident in Bangladesh, several clothing companies signed a legally binding contract that meant they were committed to better working conditions in the factories that supplied them. That would be my starting point, finding out what the contract was and whether I was satisfied with its content. The reason to do this was not because it would occupy me and give me something to do. It wasn’t because making an effort would make me feel good about myself. It was in fact the complete opposite; I had to do it because it was so little effort.
And even if I didn’t find much, or manage to change my spending habits in a way that would clear my conscience completely, at least I will have tried. The same went for voting no on the Starbucks initiative, even if the majority voted yes, I had still tried. And trying is a whole lot better than pretending.