A Sustainable World = A Sustainable Wal-Mart?

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I recently attended the Ethical Sourcing Forum in NYC to gain a deeper understanding of what big businesses are doing in terms of corporate social responsibility (CSR), particularly as it relates to their supply chain.

During the forum, I participated in panels and workshops with the likes of Wal-Mart, L’Oreal, Hudson Bay Company, Eileen Fisher, Jones Apparel, Ralph Lauren, and Nordstrom to name a few. These are all companies who for many years have been manufacturing goods – some domestically, some overseas, and some use both methods. And when it comes to labor rights and ethical sourcing, most of them don’t have the best track record. We all remember when the curtain was pulled back on Nike in the late “˜90s.

Regardless, I admit there was something special about the event, like witnessing collaborative efforts by activist groups like the Maquila Solidarity Network, and government bodies such as the U.S. Department of Labor working with large corporations to solve their really big problems.

You may have gathered from my writing thus far, that there are some things I feel troubled about. Although my attempt to get closer to the truth around ethical sourcing was not in vain, a whole new set of questions came up for me during the forum.

  1. Should I applaud these companies for finally getting around to cleaning up the very messes they created?
  2. Do their efforts now absolve them of past actions?
  3. Can I (and others) truly forgive and forget their history?

It is clear these companies aren’t doing enough. Not when you consider how much power they actually have to affect real change. On the other hand, they are the first to admit that they can be doing more. They just think this is a good place to start. Do you agree?

I would like to see more discussion around environmental impacts.

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Let’s talk about deforestation and pollution, waste, the use of toxic chemicals, destruction of entire ecosystems and communities. When is that conversation going to take place? And what about that third, and lesser known “R” called reduce? Obviously this is not a word or topic of discussion at forums like the ESF, because at the end of the day, these corporations want us to do the exact opposite. They want us to consume more and more of their products.

I remember reading, “You can’t have a sustainable world without a sustainable Wal-Mart”. And while I totally get this statement, I’m not entirely convinced. A big part of me dislikes the fact that the Wal-Mart’s of the world exist in the first place.  But the reality is they do. And unfortunately, millions of people shop there every year.

Images: Mountain Top Removal Mining and kevindooley

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