Bill Knight - June 14
10:55 am
Wed June 13, 2012

Flag Day & Smart Shopping

It’s easy to criticize Wal-Mart for selling outsourced merchandise made overseas, some of it by virtual slaves or kids. But as Flag Day’s marked today, it’s worth noting that some corporations, such as Peoria-based Caterpillar, see outsourcing as inefficient or undesirable, and that we can individually make a difference.

Flag Day is when we can fly the colors and think of patriotism, but it’s not always easy to show patriotism when shopping. The retailer American Eagle Outfitters is an example. A visit there showed shirts made in Indonesia, slacks from India, t-shirts from Haiti, belts and shoes from China, and shorts and underwear from Bangla Desh.

This year – 151 years after Flag Day was proposed in a Hartford, Ct., newspaper in the year U.S. flags were first mass-produced) – consumers could value their shopping preferences more – and realize the impact they have. Apart from consumers, corporations may be changing their choices to off-shore and outsource, a business change justified as “creative destruction.”

James Howard Kunstler in his 2005 book The Long Emergency wrote, “Americans failed to recognize the essential fraudulence of the idea that this destruction was ‘creative’ and would lead to a higher good, that the end justified the means, even as they watched their towns die around them.

Kunstler continued, “Wal-Mart and its imitators used their wealth and muscle to set up ‘superstores’ on the cheap land outside small towns and put every other merchant out of business, often destroying most of the town’s middle class. They also destroyed the local capacity to produce goods. The public enjoyed this bonanza of ‘supercheap’ manufactured goods without reckoning any of the collateral costs, which were astronomical.”

“Saving money” this way can be costly – and yield consequences that show that consumers sometimes act – shop – against our own self-interests.

Meanwhile, Caterpillar and six other big U.S. corporations this spring announced a joint effort to find small businesses in the United States to be part of a contractors network. The idea is open to any of the 9 million small businesses in the country, and hundreds have reportedly signed up.

A report from the global management consulting firm Accenture said, “Companies are beginning to realize that – having off-shored much of their manufacturing and supply operations away from their demand locations – they hurt their ability to meet their customers’ expectations across a wide spectrum of areas, such as being able to rapidly meet increasing customer desires for unique products, continuing to maintain rapid delivery/ response times, as well as maintaining low inventories and competitive total costs.”

It added, “Managing supply operations separated far from where demand occurs has weakened their overall operational planning, forecasting and general flexibility, while in some cases driving up costs with the need for complex network management. This situation has limited the companies’ competitive advantage.”

Lingering adverse consequences: More than 490,000 minivans were sold in the United States last year, and none were made in this country by unionized workers. But dozens of vehicles are made by unionized workers in this country, and the United Auto Workers reminds buyers to check Vehicle Identification Numbers; VINs starting with a “1,” “4” or “5” are made in the United States.

Besides transportation, there are common purchases besides shelter and food, of course. (Local housing can’t be outsourced except in ownership and construction; Community Supported Agriculture programs and farmers markets, locker plants and local producers offer varieties of foods.) There’s also beer, and both major brands and micro-brews are bottled in this country by union labor, ranging from the Anheuser-Busch labels, Miller and Pabst to Iron City, Moosehead and Rolling Rock. Speaking of beer, thousands of workers at Major League Baseball ballparks are represented by unions, and speaking of getaways, theme parks such as Disney World employ thousands of workers in more than a dozen labor unions.

More essential are clothes, and there’s quality apparel still made in this country, many goods by union employees. Look for Graybear, Lee jeans, New Balance shoes, Carhartt, Red Wing Shoes, and others.

Theunionshop.org is an online store run by Full Moon Rising, Inc., an Illinois union member outfit in business since 1994, selling exclusively USA made and union-made products. Also, check out unionmadeclothing.com or www.unionlabel.com . Finally, the Machinists union lists other searchable sites where you can look for American and union products to buy locally, including BuyAmerican.com, Made in The USA.org, and US Stuff.org.

Wave the flag; and show patriotism with your shopping choices.

Bill Knight is a freelance writer. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Western Illinois University or Tri States Public Radio.