‘It has been said that something as small as the flutter of a butterfly's wing can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world.’
- Chaos Theory
Thursday night, too hungry and tired to cook or go out to eat. No need; the whole wide world and its cuisines are at your fingertips. Globalization is meal delivery menus. Just scroll, click, order online. It is Afghan curry on your Swedish IKEA couch in thirty minutes or less, Bluefin tuna delivered to your doorstep, dark chocolate from the Côte d’Ivoire, tabboule and hummus just like mom used to make on those nights you are missing home.
Globalization turns dinner into an affordable cultural experience on a weeknight. It shortens distances, waiting times, expands horizons and taste palettes. We like to think it defines us, cosmopolitan citizens of the world. But thirty minutes later dinner is over and that same world is wide again.
Who cares that Bluefin tuna is endangered and there is fighting in Afghanistan? That child slavery is rampant on cocoa farms and the Middle East exports refugees too? That poor business practices are found in every sector, every product you consume? Who cares about anti-corruption, human rights, labor standards, the environment?
Dinner is just dinner and it is not personal. It is curry, sushi, pizza in a box. Yours will not change the world and besides, it is late and Afghanistan is far.
So is Bangladesh, where your classic white t-shirt and washed-out blue jeans were produced. Their discounted price tags mean discounted wages and unpaid overtime in sweatshops. But jeans are just jeans and it is not personal and besides, where is Bangladesh?
In South East Asia, across the border from India, where most mica is produced.
Mica - found in mascara, eye shadow, blush, foundation, lipstick, all that shimmers and shines – is often harvested by little children under the age of ten. Up to 20,000 are estimated to work in the Jharkand and Bihar mines, carrying flakes of rock down mountains, separating them by hand from debris.
That they should be in school instead is sad, but makeup is not personal. It’s just mascara, India is far away, and besides, what real difference can you make?
No business is just business. Everything is personal. Coffee, diamonds, leather, silk, gold, oil. Coal, copper, strawberries, cotton, tobacco, sugar, or the latest iPhone. Globalization means trade flows all ways. People, ideas, grievances, movements too. And with that awareness comes responsibility; nothing, no one, nowhere is far away.
A French bank that launders money can pay for Rwandan machetes and guns. A Japanese supplier that makes faulty airbags can injure and kill hundreds. Pollution and animals gone extinct can disrupt whole ecosystems, create a new epoch in our planet’s history. And no, ‘there is no planet B.’
Business may be business but there are countless business models, and some actually do well and good. Globalization means competition, means the consumer has the power to choose. So perhaps do some research, read labels, ask questions. Go through the options on the menu. Look for respect and support for human rights, the environment, free and fair labor, honesty.
Hold businesses accountable and select those that conform to your values. The flutter of a butterfly’s wing can ultimately cause a typhoon.
Your choices may not. They probably will not. Nor eliminate hunger, poverty, slavery. Nor undo climate change, injustice, put every child back in school. But choose with intention, attention anyway, if only for what that makes you. We are defined by the choices we make. It is personal at the end.