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The Future of Choosing Compassionate Consumption
The following post was written by Ariel Jacobson, senior associate for UUSC's Economic Justice Program.
Do you care about ethical eating? Do you support sustainable, local businesses? I suspect your answer is yes, because more than 1,300 UUSC supporters have signed the Choose Compassionate Consumption (CCC) pledge. You've committed to aligning your purchases more closely with your values, and you affirmed that you care about how the goods you buy and services you patronize measure up when it comes to respecting workers' rights. I'm excited to share with you what we've accomplished through CCC and what's on the horizon.
What we've done together
Because of you, UUSC was able to help our partner the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-United) to send a strong message that we will not rest until restaurant workers are paid a decent wage and treated fairly. Because of you, we were able to tell Hershey that while we love kisses, we don't love child labor in the cocoa industry. And along with more than 2,600 of you, UUSC stood by our ally Equal Exchange, a worker-owned fair-trade company, adding our voices to a statement in solidarity with small-farmer cooperatives, asserting that fair trade is meant to support farmers who have been pushed to the margins — not to promote large plantation-style farms with lower standards.
Whether you're passionate about workers' rights, community access to healthy food, or environmental stewardship in agriculture, UUSC believes these issues are interconnected. And the reality is that we can use our power as consumers, driven by the values of our faith and social justice, to play a major role in creating a more just food system.
What's ahead for CCC
So I'm excited to share what's brewing for the upcoming year of UUSC's Choose Compassionate Consumption initiative. We'll continue our focus on advancing workers' rights, and we're inviting you to get involved. We need you to help us address the human-rights challenges that workers face throughout the food chain, to join us in improving labor conditions in the restaurant industry, and to bring fair trade back to its roots.
Workers along the food chain
We want to broaden the national conversation about what's important in our food system to include upholding the rights of workers. With 20 million jobs — one-sixth of the nation's workforce — in the U.S. food system, this is a segment of our economy that can't be ignored. Especially since many of these jobs are low paid and lack basic benefits like paid sick days. We'll be building upon the 2011 Statement of Conscience on Ethical Eating with new worship materials, discussion guides, and other interactive tools to help you explore these questions on your own or in community with others.
Workers in the restaurant industry
ROC-United has spent more than a decade organizing workers in the restaurant industry across lines of race, gender, and class, and today has a presence in 19 cities across the country. ROC-United has also established a group of more than 60 restaurant employers that are models for how to treat their employees fairly while also growing their bottom line. But now, there's a unique opportunity for consumers to get involved as never before, to create the demand for restaurants to treat their workers as well as they treat their customers.
If you haven't viewed it already, I recommend watching the Behind the Kitchen Door trailer, and we hope you'll read the book when it's released on February 13, 2013 (in honor of the $2.13 per hour tipped minimum wage). Through this book, and some other exciting multimedia projects to come, we're inviting you to help us raise the consciousness of communities across the country, to infuse awareness of labor rights into the mainstream.
Since our main policy priority is to raise the tipped minimum wage that has been stuck at $2.13 since 1991 — leaving many restaurant workers, especially women, in poverty — alongside our partners ROC-United and Let Justice Roll, we'll continue to push Congress to give a raise to all minimum-wage workers.
Small farmers and fair trade
Finally, we'll maintain our commitment to fair trade through the UUSC Coffee Project. If you want to make a meaningful contribution by purchasing fairly traded products, which then also give back to small-farmer cooperatives through UUSC, we'll be offering tons of opportunities to accomplish that through new educational resources and through chocolate, coffee, tea, and other goodies — part of the joys of ethical eating!
The most wonderful thing is that we have the power to contribute, in both large and small ways, to building a more just food system that works for all. The futures of workers, businesses, and consumers depend on it, so let's get down to work.