Why “Buy American” Isn’t The Ethical Answer


Late last year I came across some minimalism readings that made me interested in “living with less.” A vague interest in purging the unnecessary quickly lead to a commitment to shopping ethically and minimally.

My interest quickly escalated after learning about the effect of fast-fashion on the environment and impoverished communities around the globe. It was a reality that was hard to face and staring at my overflowing closet of Forever 21 apparel was clear evidence that I was one of those perpetuating the problem.

So my fiancé and I started the new year by cleaning out our apartment and closets, keeping only the essentials and donating the rest. We began whittling our fast-fashion wardrobes to ethical, eco-friendly capsule wardrobes. It’s still a work in progress, but we both agree, that so far, it feels amazing.

What doesn’t feel so amazing, is hearing the toxic “Buy American” campaign finding renewed life within the spreading hate that is plaguing our country. The truth is, “Buy American” has a long and deep history of bigotry.

“Buy American presumes an imagined economic nation that pits working people in the United States against those of other countries, casting them as the enemy. From there, it’s often been a quick step to racial distinctions and attacks, as the past has shown. Buy American also has played into the hands of transnational corporations and other elites, who are happy if working people in the United States turn against those from other countries, while the corporations themselves flit about the world seeking low-cost labor.”

And side note: “Hire American” also has a history of discrimination and racism. It implies other countries are stealing our jobs, when in reality, American companies are the ones that have chosen to flee abroad.

And while folks on this side of the pond feel American workers are being pushed aside while workers from other countries are profiting, the truth is we’re all losing.

“Fast-fashion,” “quantity-over-quality” companies relocating production overseas for low-cost labor (mostly because of undying demand by consumers…bringing it back to minimalism) are not only taking jobs with them, but they are also taking advantage of impoverished families in developing countries with grossly low wages, sweatshops, child labor, unethical production practices and unsafe working conditions.

I don’t agree that campaigns like “Buy American, Hire American” are a show of loyalty to our country. In fact, I believe they hinder us economically and socially.

“Today, we need to eschew both corporate-driven free trade and dangerous nationalism, and instead embrace a politics of trade and immigration based on empathy, respect and support for working people around the world.”—Dana Frank, author of “Buy American: The Untold Story of Economic Nationalism”

I believe we invest in our economy when we invest in fair-trade, ethical companies that create jobs in America by offering opportunities, safe conditions and living wages to people worldwide.

Choosing to shop ethically is more than just boycotting, because we know that’s not the silver bullet of solutions for this global crisis. I choose to shop ethically because it’s a way for me to be part of the great work some fair-trade companies are doing.

Shops like Haiti Babi, Pact, The Little Market and many others, are helping lift more people around the world out of extreme poverty. They don’t just provide families with jobs, they help strengthen families by keeping them together, providing valuable skills, education, healthcare, and child care. They’re giving impoverished families the chance to succeed and a life they can live with pride and dignity.

These are purchases that I can choose to make that have the power to change a few lives and that’s always money well spent.

“Buy American” might sound like a nifty campaign slogan, but in reality it’s proven to be an illusion that breeds hate and intolerance while hiding behind the mask of patriotism. It’s dark, ugly and by no means ethical.

p.s. I also realize there is a level of privilege that comes with being able to shop ethically. This is not something I’m choosing to ignore, but an issue I’ll be writing about next. 


Photo by: Hannah Morgan

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