Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Politics or Ethics? - The Wedge Co-op in Minneapolis and Eden Foods

When I was a graduate student in Minneapolis, and I had any extra money, I'd head to the Wedge Co-op to take advantage of their outstanding food. Even today, our close friends with whom we stay when we visit are just a few blocks away from The Wedge, and we love shopping there.

As with most co-ops and natural-food stores, as news about Eden Foods' anti-woman position has spread, they've received lots of customer comment. It was with disappointment that I read this response (name shortened by me):
"From - Wedge Natural Foods Co-op,
Hi J.
Thanks so much for sharing your views about the Eden Foods situation with the Wedge. We are aware of the recent news, and while we are disappointed by Eden Foods' stand on this issue, the Wedge has a long-standing tradition (since our earliest days as a co-op) of not engaging in boycotts that are called for political reasons. Our membership includes a wide swath of political, religious and cultural viewpoints, and we leave decisions of this kind to our members.
As an organic foods co-op, we have our own set of values to consider; Eden Foods sources from North American organic farmers. Dropping their products would punish regional organic growers who have no part in Eden company decisions and would leave our co-op with nothing but Chinese-sourced organic beans, in direct opposition to our commitment to healthy regional farm economies and a domestic organic food shed.
Basing health insurance on employment is an altogether different conversation that needs to move forward. This most-recent situation is just one part of that larger discourse, which will get worked out in the courts and in the political arena. Until then, we encourage our members to make their own purchasing decisions based on the values they hold most important to them, and we will follow your lead."
Let's take this apart.

First, it is entirely reasonable for a business to not engage in politically-based boycotts. Companies donate to powerful people, often to the right and the left, and it's going to be very hard for a business to figure out which products to carry based on political issues.

That said, there are moral and ethical reasons for which a company like The Wedge surely would boycott. There has been news about slave labor involving Asian Shrimp. I argue it would be fundamentally ethical, not political, to demand such products are boycotted (I shop at Costco a lot and have written to them about the shrimp). Slave-labor is an easy case, if ad extremum, to draw a line and demand our companies pick a side.

So the question is whether the Eden Foods situation is political or ethical? I suggest it is the latter. This is not about politics - who votes for whom, who gives money where - but about a religious fanatic demanding to impose his views on his workers, refusing to cover contraceptive care as part of an expanding campaign designed to police female sexuality.

Over in Madison, the Willy Street Co-op has taken a different pathway than The Wedge. They have a forum for owners (only) and have asked for comment on Eden Foods. They too want to avoid political boycotts, but write (my emphasis)
The Co-op carries a lot of Eden Foods products (almost 100). Removing their product outright would significantly change our store inventory. Potential replacement products may cost more, and may not have as pure packaging. Some products may simply be no longer available to the Co-op.
However, our Co-op also strives to support a healthy, just, and tolerant food system in which workers are valued and compensated fairly across the board. Out of respect for the diverse values of our Owners and a commitment to transparency, we now bring the question of whether or not the Co-op should continue to carry Eden Foods products to the Ownership itself.
That bolded line acknowledges that here the issue might be ethical, rather than political. I hope Madison locals will let them know.

Meanwhile, back in Minneapolis, we lack the kind of transparent and community-driven dialogue encouraged by Willy Street, which is disappointing. That said, I can understand why The Wedge wants to dodge this issue. Don't let them. They are a store in one of the most liberal cities in America. If you live there, stop buying the product. In addition, politely tell the Wedge that they are making the wrong choice, that this is about fundamental freedoms, not politics. If you are a member, use your power. If you are considering becoming a member, tell the management that this issue matters to you.

Here is their contact page. Or tell them on Facebook. Or Tweet at them. Convince them.

Two more points.

I find the last paragraph of their statement horribly naive. They write:
"This most-recent situation is just one part of that larger discourse, which will get worked out in the courts and in the political arena." 
It reminds me of Eden Foods' statement, "We were convinced that actions of the federal government were illegal, and so filed a formal objection. The recent Supreme Court decision confirms, at least in part, that we were correct." For EF, the courts have ruled, and the issue is over. Obviously, I disagree.

We live in a country in which five conservative Catholic men with life appointments control the Supreme Court. We cannot wait for the courts to solve this. It's not just going to get "worked out." We have to work

On the bright side, there's their finish: "Until then, we encourage our members to make their own purchasing decisions based on the values they hold most important to them, and we will follow your lead."

That last line is really important. It says, if you, the customer, stop buying Eden Foods, the store will stop carrying it (or carrying so much of it). And that's true for other companies too. Right now, there's a Change.org petition asking Whole Foods to stop carrying Eden Foods. I can tell you that this petition is not going to work. The libertarian masters of Whole Foods do not care how many people sign a petition.

But they do care about money. 

Stop buying Eden Foods. Tell the management at your local store, politely, why not, and suggest they consider carrying less of it. We don't need to put Eden Foods out of business, but let's see by how much we can reduce their profits.

Because given the incoherence of Potter on his religious values, I suspect what he really cares about, at the end of the day, is also money.

As consumers, organized, we have power. Let's use it. 

7 comments:

polarrev said...

David, thanks for the post and your take on the matter. I have just recently become aware of this issue and posted an opposing view in the form of an open letter to the GM of Seward Co-op, Sean Doyle here: http://polarrev.wordpress.com/

Without a shared understanding of rights there can be no shared understanding of freedom. To me, the weakest aspect of your post is the lack of basis for the determination of the freedom violation in question. You appear to 'Beg the question', by asserting the nature of 'Fundamental freedoms' as a given. Please explain your thinking about how a female employee's fundamental freedom is being violated when she is not provided a particular form of birth control by her employer.

Furthermore, please explain your reasoning how it is morally acceptable to compel an employer to supply a product or enable (or partake -- not prevent) an act that they find morally objectionable. What if the "tables were turned" and the government demanded atheist employers supply Bibles, crosses and rosaries to their employees?

And lastly, please talk more about the distinction between politics and ethics. I am not so sure they are easily separable -- how can political policy be formed without an ethical framework on which to form it?

polarrev said...

David, thanks for the post and your take on the matter. I have just recently become aware of this issue and posted an opposing view in the form of an open letter to the GM of Seward Co-op, Sean Doyle here: http://polarrev.wordpress.com/

Without a shared understanding of rights there can be no shared understanding of freedom. To me, the weakest aspect of your post is the lack of basis for the determination of the freedom violation in question. You appear to 'Beg the question', by asserting the nature of 'Fundamental freedoms' as a given. Please explain your thinking about how a female employee's fundamental freedom is being violated when she is not provided a particular form of birth control by her employer.

Furthermore, please explain your reasoning how it is morally acceptable to compel an employer to supply a product or enable (as opposed to prevent) an act that they find morally objectionable. What if the "tables were turned" and the government demanded atheist employers supply Bibles, crosses and rosaries to their employees?

And lastly, please talk more about the distinction between politics and ethics. I am not so sure they are easily separable -- how can political policy be formed without an ethical framework on which to form it?

col said...

Polarrev, it's clear that you are not at all well versed in medical issues or employment compensation -- or, indeed, in the issue at hand. Unlike Hobby Lobby, Eden Foods refuses to cover ANY type of birth control for its employees. You say "when she is not provided a particular form of birth control by her employer." That's Hobby Lobby, who based their refusal on a complete fabrication of facts (i.e. that the morning after pill and others are abortifacents; like many others, they're clearing confusing the morning after pill with RU-486, the so-called abortion pill. The two are nothing alike -- Google it.)

Quick medical lesson: Birth control is a necessary part of health care for women. The obvious thing it does is prevent pregnancy, which can be dangerous for women with many conditions, can prevent women from being allowed to use certain treatments (i.e. chemotherapy) and is always dangerous if pregnancies are not properly spaced out. In addition, birth control is used to treat or manage conditions such as endometriosis, ovarian cysts, pelvic inflammatory syndrome, painful periods, Turner syndrome, anemia, and many others. The irony is that not treating a few of these conditions with birth control pills can lead to infertility. Additionally, birth control pills can be used to prevent ovarian cancer in high risk individuals. Contraception is a necessary part of health care for women, and pregnancy and childbirth are not simple little walks in the park. They are health care events which require a doctor's oversight and can be quite dangerous. This is particularly true in the United States, where women are more likely to die in childbirth than in any other country. And unwanted pregnancies have poorer health outcomes for both mother and baby.

Next is the issue of employment compensation. A quite significant portion of most employees' pay comes from their benefits. Look at your pay stub some time -- if you have employer-provided health insurance, do all your paychecks throughout the year add up to your yearly salary? For me, it doesn't even come close. That's because benefits are considered part of pay. When you refuse to provide women with the same quality of health care as men, you're paying them less. Paying for health care out of pocket will cost most women $1,000 to $2,000 extra per year, which comes up to a total of around $50,000 less in her lifetime. On average, that's about a year's salary. If you're a man, would you want to spend a year working for free while your female colleagues get paid, all because some stuffy panel of women decided that your health is less important and against their religion?

Which brings me to the final point. All of us pay taxes for things we disagree with, whether it's war or welfare or aid to Muslim countries or aid to Israel. Just because you belong to a dominant religion doesn't mean you get special treatment. Jehovah's Witness employers still have to purchase insurance that covers blood transfusions, etc. When you choose to own a business, you don't get to discriminate. You chose to own that business, but women didn't choose to be female. It's absolutely ridiculous to punish them simply for being born in a world where some interpret their religion as saying that women are less important. This type of thinking would not fly if an employer used the old racist interpretations of the Bible and claimed that he should therefore be able to pay black employees less. It's no different with women -- if you want to discriminate, don't own a business.

col said...

(Argh, I meant to say that more women per capita die in the United States than in any other DEVELOPED country!)

foodnotpolitics said...

col - thanks for the response. First, I have never questioned or tried to delegitimize the importance of birth control and healthcare. My point is, how can you force someone to pay for something that you want? I mean, yes, I know how you can do it -- government! ;-) But how can you say this is ethically OK?

Taxes: Apparently funding funding wars, drone strikes, the NSA, police militarization, Guantanamo and other things you don't agree with doesn't bother you too much… If it did, you might not find the practice of compulsory payment so virtuous.

Providing for yourself and your family should not be considered a 'privilege'. Thats what you imply when you say one can 'choose' not to own a business if they don't agree with the mandate! What if no one hires the *former* business owner? Should they then just give up their conscience so as to comply with YOUR demands and eat? No one is being forced to work at an Eden Foods or Hobby Lobby!

Tell me how you believe one person can ethically force another to act and utilize their resources for your benefit. And don't just say 'because discrimination'. If you believe discrimination is unethical and should be illegal in the commercial world, I also want to hear you argue that it should also be illegal in one's personal life as well.

foodnotpolitics said...

col - thanks for the response. First, I have never questioned or tried to delegitimize the importance of birth control and healthcare. My point is, how can you force someone to pay for something that you want? I mean, yes, I know how you can do it -- government! ;-) But how can you say this is ethically OK?

Taxes: Apparently funding funding wars, drone strikes, the NSA, police militarization, Guantanamo and other things you don't agree with doesn't bother you too much… If it did, you might not find the practice of compulsory payment so virtuous.

Providing for yourself and your family should not be considered a 'privilege'. Thats what you imply when you say one can 'choose' not to own a business if they don't agree with the mandate! What if no one hires the *former* business owner? Should they then just give up their conscience so as to comply with YOUR demands and eat? No one is being forced to work at an Eden Foods or Hobby Lobby!

Tell me how you believe one person can ethically force another to act and utilize their resources for your benefit. And don't just say 'because discrimination'. If you believe discrimination is unethical and should be illegal in the commercial world, I also want to hear you argue that it should also be illegal in one's personal life as well.

Technical point: You can't argue if you don't like it move, don't own a business, etc. This just begs the question of whether the law is just.

PS Hi David ;-). I'm sorry that you can't be bothered to argue with one of your detractors. Your argument re: Eden Foods, politics and ethics is weak! You should really just take a moment to address my criticism that politics are an expression of one's ethics, thus debatable, and also not the purview of some non-political organizations like many food co-ops.

foodnotpolitics said...

Quick follow up:

1) Taxes clarification: I oppose the funding of interventionist wars of aggression and indefinite detainment, etc -- didn't mean to suggest that you did as well. The point is, I support your right to not be compelled to pay for things that you object to. Period.

2) Third point clarification: the religious person is ultimately forced to deny their conscience to earn a living (as employment is not a given), while the woman could simply choose to work elsewhere if they do not like the benefits (or start their own business!). Are you also going to argue that employment at any given business is a 'right'?

2) The last question is not to debate the ethics of 'discrimination' per se (I believe it abhorrent), but rather a jab at the inconsistency and internal tension of the laws in question. If the law reflects some 'right' for the private individual to 'discriminate', then there is no logical reason why the individual should have that right taken in a commercial setting. From another angle: if the effects of discrimination are so deleterious in a commercial setting, how can it be argued discrimination is not harmful and should be legal in a private setting? Can a person steal in private setting, but not in a place of business?