Would you buy, or rather, not buy, along political (or any other) lines?
I ducked out for an afternoon coffee with Yoda today and as we got comfortable on those plush Starbuck's chairs, as I was about to relish my short Americano, he asked, "Would you stop drinking Starbuck's if I told you that they invested heavily in the Israeli economy?"
Nevermind whether or not it's true, but to me, it really depends on the business model. A while back (during one of those seasonal calls to boycott all things American), I read an article about how such boycotts in the Middle East caused a mere dent in the pockets of the Big Boys, and ended up hurting the local franchisees more.
During the pause in our conversation, I wondered about how conscientious a consumer I was. My handbag is German, my shoes Australian (I think), my clothes Spanish and Singaporean, my phone Japanese and my scarf Chinese. Of course, my PDA is an American brand, which hasn't appeared on a "Boycott American Products" list. I guess I'm a walking example of the effects of globalisation.
I do wonder sometimes how my purchasing choices affect the world. I've switched most of my personal needs to that little shop from a little French town, mainly because 1) the products weren't heavily doused in perfume and 2) they contribute towards education of the blind and promotion of consumerism among the blind community (Braille-labelling on product packaging). It costs more, but the feel-good factor is definitely there.
A stocktake of my kitchen shelf reveals a range of 'choice' products - mainly because I identify with certain brands from my past - Keebler, Pepperidge Farms, Hershey's, Heinz, Arnott's ... - which are mainly American and Australian. Of course, Maggi and Lee Kum Kee are featured prominently in the Asian section of Chateau Najah's pantry.
I have no idea whether my short Americano today helped pay for a bullet used to shoot Palestinians. I have no idea which has a greater impact: a choice to buy which may contribute to violence in the Middle East, or a choice to go elsewhere, which may be to the detriment to a Malaysian entrepreneur. I have no idea which actually has an impact at all...
Sometimes the choices aren't so simple - uphold a political belief and sacrifice a local business? And even if we choose to buy Malaysian all the way, aren't imported goods brought in by Malaysian businesses too?
In the meanwhile, maybe I can be comfortable in the fact that Starbuck's markets Fair Trade Coffee...
Posted by Najah Nasseri at 2004年05月20日 21:37
On a side note:
Has anyone else noticed that you can't find Lay's and Dorito's in the supermarkets lately?
I'm glad that Fair Trade Coffee is growing more popular - at least it shows that there is a growing awareness amongst consumers.
There isn't much point in boycotting American products. Like you say, it'll hardly make a dent on the big companies.
Secondly, the world has come to be dependent on American products, be it directly or indirectly - it's inseperable in today's globlisation era (you do sound like a walking example of globalisation :)). Finally, it's not only the Americans who are investing in Israel - how many other country's product can we boycott?
The effect of boycott is minimal to American policy in Israel, considering the small minority of people adhering to it. Also, it is simply because it is not the solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
There are many choices out there. It's really up to yourself to see it fit.
There is a community in US that shuns everything from cars to mobile phones. They beleive old is good, tech is evil. They want to live live in a slow pace. They prefer to walk or ride horses. They are still practising it.
So it's up to you. But I think if you live your life worrying if the cuppa coffee u sip is brewed by employee of an international francise network owned by Jews, your life is going to be very tiresome.
Have to agree with Resident (and yes Najah, you DO sound like a make believe poster girl for globalisation) but yeah, at the end of the day is everything really THAT simple?
My counter argument for the lack of a dent made in American pockets is that every little helps - so the idea is that if enough people boycott the products, it should work. But as Najah mentioned, the business model that is employed results in the local franchise being hurt, and not HQ itself.
That aside, in order for boycotting to be effective, there has to be alternative products. You can't just say to everyone, stop drinking coffee, and then stop there. If Muslim countries are serious about the whole boycott scenario; then they should offer serious alternatives. Has there been any effort in this direction, though? Spare the two Cola alternatives being sold in Britain (Mecca Cola and Qibla Cola), I haven't read about any other attempts.
Taste and quality aside, even those two Colas are not available outside certain locations, so.. *shrug*.. there you go.
The notion seems good, the idea is there. The implementation, however.. not too great.
I agree with Idlan... we need QUALITY subtitutes. I think the boycott can work and can damage that particular country's economy. but like you said the calls boycott calls are seasonal. Two weeks later people start buying again.
For me I've manage to reduce my sugar and fat intake by not consuming that brownish amber liquid (although the vanilla version have proved itself to be quite tough to resist!) and the numerous fast food joint (thanks to reading Fast Food Nation)
I think you can find Lay's and Doritos at Kiosk. Not that Im promoting American products really.
I think you should all see the trade statistics - I don't have it on me at the moment, but the reality is that the US is Malaysia's No.1 export market. In excess of 30% of our exports go to the US market. Malaysia on the other hand, while an important trade partner, is probably a fall smaller percentage of their export market, probably less than 10%. Hence, if we stopped importing US products, they would retaliate by not buying our products. No biggie to them. We are the ones who suffer.
I always believe our current lifestyles are detrimental to approx 5.2 billion others. Boycott wonít work because we cannot deny people the choices they have. Unity by religion, race etc. is just a myth, except may be the Buddhist. We can only educate. Many should already know well the products of Nike, McDonalds, Tesco, IKEA, Starbucks, Shell, 3M etc. and how these company works and whoís behind them. There are great stories behind their products and services. Now itíll be your personal choice, conscience and being a smart consumer. Whenever I can, I avoid buying from them (McDonald is just bad food, and IKEA was the pioneer in hiring child labors, but Tesco save you money when buying in large quantities). Buying personal products from France? Thatís just being trendy. One thing I wonít do is work for these companies. My line of work may force me to make military equipment, but only if Iím desperate or great opportunity to learn (engineering and physics). I know that it is unfortunate, but Iíll expand my eco-friendly fish farm in return.
A little sidetrack, I was one of the peaceful protesters at the Summit of America, held at Quebec City in 2001. I did checkout the frontline to watch the super radicals fought, i.e. close enough to see tear gas canisters flying over me. It was quite something, but wonít do it again anytime soon.
And one last thing, for those at Petronas, are you happy now that oil prices are sky high? Big bonus this year?
To be completely honest, Starbucks' foray into the world of fairtrade coffee can only be described as "token" and a lot of hype. Undeniably, they DO sell fair trade coffee these days, but only as "fairtrade coffee". As for their mega-selling expressos and Americanos and what-not... is still being made using commercial coffee which is cheaper.
Finally... why Starbucks la? The coffee tastes more like water! :P
I agree with Resident and Ash, boycott does not solve the Palestinian-Israeli problem and nothing is that simple.
Najah: I just bought Lay's from Midvalley's Carrefour last night. >)
I tend to agree with Jikon. Having had a peek at how corporate Malaysia works, "drive-by" boycotts could do more harm to the local economy than the actual targets. Such is the way the business planners have minimised their risks in going into our country.
Starbucks gives me discounts because of where I work. It's also a quiet place to talk - suitable for work coffees. As for the taste, it's fine by me, although I prefer San Francisco Coffee brews. Whether the Fair Trade Coffee program is a PR exercise, it's working on me. Life goes on.
1) Announcement: I no longer work for Petronas. As to whether I will qualify for the bonus this year has yet to be seen. So, I can't say if I personally am happy with the oil price hike. Anyway, anything that goes up, must come down.
2) Again, things are not that simple. The profit margins due to the price hike goes towards further development of the business, income for the govt in the form of taxes and more 'community projects'. I can only guess that the company puts the profits into reserves for hard times - which all businesses have to deal with eventually. Again, before we write-off the Big Bad Corporations for whatever reasons, we should investigate how they affect our society. I think any profit Petronas makes ends up benefitting Malaysia a lot more due to its operating model.
I still prefer starbucks anytime, although I enjoy SFCC's every now and then, too bad no discount as said by Najah...
Anyway, perhaps it is time we go for the local coffee, anyone knows where I can get good Ipoh White Coffee in the Klang Valley? I got hooked to it during my last visit to Ipoh... :)
I know of one Coffee place at Plaza Ampang, but the Ipoh White Coffee lack the ummph of the one I tried in Ipoh.
I tend to agree with Jikon, the economics around international trade is much more complex and intertwined. A simple boycott around something as simple as coffee has repurcussions. Before we decide to do anything, do we have enough "might" to make a mark?
In some way or other, every economy in the world relies on the US import markets. It is just a natural progression of economies achieving "Best Of Breed" status. You sell what you are good at.
From a consumption standpoint, Malaysia is a big country with sufficient natural resources to go about its own business. The implications in my humble opinion is bigger, we now rely on more than just staple consumables. Food is one thing, how about technology, globalisation other market opportunities? We will still need those to move along.
Something people dont see, an action against an American company is not about that company, they take it as an action against the country.
Nothing fancy - just wanted to ask where one can get Walker's crisps. BTW, Najah, make sure that the aluminium used as containers for that product are not harmful to you in the long run.
I did read somewhere that aluminium pots/pans were a big no-no, due to trace aluminium being ingested in the body. But on the other hand, maybe it's harmful only when aluminium is heated -any scientists out there?
ok lah, I say la something.
All this boycott talk is motivated more from political and business stand rather than religious.
One coffee towkay should be happy to see patron shifting from the other towkay outlet to theirs especially with EURO2004 around the corner.
Not long ago when Msia and Spore at odd both the country want to boycott one another. Spore want to boycott water from Msia. They rather drink their own urine (sic!) instead of paying Msia 10 to 20 sen extra for water. But today they are willing to pay hundreds million of dollar for a stake in Msian bank.
I also want to boycott buying the pro government newspaper because I think by buying the newspaper I am contributing to their propaganda machinenary but I still read their newsprint (you guys figure that out whether it make sense or not).
So this boycott thing is something you say for fun only at the very moment when the oxygen is 99% full in your brain.
ok lah I think I already say lah something so much already. No say no fun. Cheers!
i don't believe in boycott. as rhomer said, we can't deny people their right to choose. second point, boycott will have a lot of bad repercussions.
I should have been more clear about my question for the Petronas employee. I don't care about the economic impact to our country and society due to this. What I'm interested is the individual conscience. They way I see it, there's a war going on, people are suffering, and Petronas (i.e. the employee) profited directly from it. Do you feel anything?
I'm not trying to offend anyone nor claiming to be the nice guy (far from it). In my line of work and my lifestyle, I have contributed directly to the event but I do feel very guilty about it and trying very hard to minimize my contributions. A few of my friends agree, many don't, and even more don't care.
The reason I'm asking is because many back home have made comments on this but only on larger context(trades, statistic and ecomomic impact etc). So how about finding out about individual actions and feeling ?
Fara: I don't think Walker's is available in Malaysia, but Tesco's own brand of chips is. It's similar, but of course, not quite the same.
Continuing on the debate...
The other dimension to this is that in a world of cross-boundary shareholding, it is very difficult, if not impossible to tell whether a company is American or British or Malaysian. Where the company's headquarters resides is no longer a good indication. This is compounded by complex corporate structure and shareholding. Furthermore, even if you did have information on the company's shareholders, how would you define whether the company was American? When the majority of shareholders are American? When 30% of shareholders are American?
As an example, that quintessential of British brand, Crabtree & Evelyn, is now considered a Malaysian company because it is (majority owned) by a Malaysian. Same goes for Laura Ashley.
Furthermore, consumers continue to buy particular goods precisely because of where they think the goods come from, either because it represents quality or lifestyle. As crude examples, precision equipment from Germany are always better, quality of imported food from UK/US/Australia is better etc. The 1901 hotdog chain in Malayisa may look like they're a franchise from the US with their American styling and names on the menu but it is actually a Malaysian product through and through, incidentally runned and owned by a Malay Muslim couple.
We wouldn't be having the Arab-Israeli conflict to this proportion if Saudi used some common sense to cut oil production and ruin the american economy, then turn around and put a clause to the american support for israel by :-
1. Cutting US military assistance from USD5bil peranum to nill.
2. Stop the US unfounded veto of UN resolutions for military action on israel.
Theres not much m'sia can do to influence things, so please don't stop sipping ur favourite american coffee and don't stop shaopping at ur nearest jewish store outlet.
On the employee standpoint of any industry that makes a profit from an event that adversely affects society (as in the case of the petroleum, insurance, and many other industries).
At the end of the day, the question of conscience may not be a big question after all. Yes, the employee benefits from a large bonus, but one that offsets the effects of the increase in oil prices on the person himself (who is not just an employee, but a breadwinner).
In times like these, such bonuses, I can imagine, will be met with a sense of bittersweet relief.
You should also ask the question of Genting employees, whose income comes at the expense of other people's losses? Or the employees of AIA and other life insurance agencies, whose income is linked to a person's need to allay fears of an uncertain future...
I think there will be always be issues to how one earns his 'rezeki' - which only that particular individual can rationalise against his/her own conscience.
There is no point in ruining the American economy. If the American economy collapse, everyone suffers, including Malaysians and Saudis alike. There is not quick fix for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and making use of Mahathir's rethoric of using oil as a "weapon" against the West will only further propagate the 'us vs them' mentality.
Anyone out there knows how did US Dollar becomes the global currency? What about emas dinar that Dr. M suggested to substitute USD? Are we going back to the basics where currency is peg against gold?
I ask that questions a lot to friends and acquintances who work in the defence industry. Some of their work have had direct impact to the current conflict. Not surprisingly, most of the answers are similar to what you and some of your friends wrote. I just don't understand why many can't make the connection. So we earn more and improve our life, family, friends and may be a bit more donations. That's it ?
Sometime I feel many are hiding behind the economics, number crunching and statistics so as not to put real human pictures to the disadvantage.
And for those who hasn't realized yet, the price of oil is already at the highest in history. I guess you guys haven't realized it because of the subsidy (I see poor people). Many are already suffering elsewhere and I don't mean drivers.
I got my sample. Thank you.
Perhaps you can ask your friends in the defence industry what it takes to change industries... For some of us, the line in which we have found ourselves in doesn't unravel its 'evils' early enough for us to make such conscious decisions.
What do you do for a living?
I might be a bit late jumping in here, but I thought I'd say something.
To say that Petronas employees are happy with the oil price increases due to a big bonus coming in at the end of the year is misleading.
Is it just sales that drive Petronas profits up? There are other factors that drive corporate performance other than just sales; and at the end of the day, the bonus packets of the people who work at Petronas isn't just correlated with the oil price - and many would argue that bonuses can't be correlated with oil price because oil price isn't a controllable element of the manager; and what the manager can't control, you can't reward.
Maybe Petronas as a corporation will achieve higher sales figures because of the oil price increases; but does that trickle down to the average (wo)man on the street? I'm sure Petronas employees also have to pay the same amount for fuel at the petrol pump - or do you get subsidies?
So the question of whether an individual is happy or otherwise is quite irrelevant; because at the end of the day, do the positive corporate effects filter down to them?
A good person to ask the same question to are the owners of petrol stations. Their workers are generally blue collar; sales will increase during the year as a function of price increases, which directly spells out a bonus - are they happy?
You said that the oil price is the highest in history...did you mean the Malaysian oil price?
If you were talking about the world oil price, then at $40 per barrel is still not as high as it was in the '70s.
If you meant that the oil price is highest in the Malaysian context, then you should also realise that the petrol prices are not at its actual rate because of the government subsidies - which benefit every petrol user. I have no problem with the government reducing the subsidies, but I'm sure many others might not quite agree with me.
There is also two sides to the coin that says our lifestyles are detrimental to 5.2 billion others. Companies, such as Coca-cola and the lot are seen to be gaining huge profits at the expense of cheap labour in poor countries. These workers are definitely not paid as well as they should be - but the point is that these multinationals are providing a source of income for the people in these countries as well.
The key to better the lives of these workers is through raising awareness and lobbying companies to treat their employees in a fairer manner. Small signs that this is working is like Starbucks agreeing to sell Fair Trade Coffee in their outlets - it shows a sign of willingness to do something.
Feeling guilty about working in Petronas is really not relevant, since I doubt Petronas is supporting the mistreatment of cheap labour or are they causing the suffering of others on purpose. Oil prices rise because of global influences - nothing much Petronas or its employees can do about it. Btw, I'm not working for Petronas - just pointing out the logic.
I can't read all the readers comments, not at the moment, as it's almost midnight, and I have to go, but really, I just have to say this, cause I think, in M'sia it's about the time the office hour begins. Pernah tak dengar pasal seekor burung yg membawa air utk memadamkan api yg membakar Nabi Ibrahim? Logic tak? Air yg dibawa tu blh padamkan api? Ianya hanyalah sebagai pelepas tanggungjawab bila disoal di akhirat nanti,apa yg kita dah contribute dlm membantu saudara seaqidah kita? Being a muslim means you are brothers and sisters to others. If only you really trying hard to be true muslims, and really we usually asked but others are not doing and what is it for? How can that gives any effects to etc etc... kalau semua org bersikap mcm ni, it will go nowhere... sbb tak de sapa yg mulakan. Really perbaiki diri kita dan ajaklah org lain kpd kebaikan. Just sit back and think if the whole lot of your family are in Palestine, your house being demolished unnecessary, you are just living in a tent just think... think with dgn penuh simpati... if they (the palestinians) can ask you, what do you do to help them... what would you say? Have you ever allocated any moneys to them instead of buying all overseas products or luxury stuffs? Kalau yea bagus, but then... you spend RM100 just on food, and can you imagine what they eat or if they even eat anything in a day... I thougth the opportunity you had to study abroad has opened your eyes to see the true colours.... it seems like NOT!!! Think....
Ms Maryam Imran,
Perhaps you should also think about your boycott choices. How sure are you that spending RM100 on food will save the Palestinians and not sacrifice a fellow Muslim entrepreneur? As many of the commentors pointed out (and some of the commentors do have depth in financial knowledge), the way international megabusiness have arranged their investments in Malaysia are such that it localises risk to the parent company.
As some would point out, yes, there are boycotts that work. But we can't blindly point out at all the American, Japanese, European bla bla bla brands and think that we're hitting a target. Looking at the business model helps (but I warn you, it takes patience and an open mind) - because it helps reduce the number of 'friendly fire' - the kind where we hit our own - Malaysians trying to earn an honest living and totally miss the original targets.
I read I think your approach to things are quite simplistic - the world, post-globalisation, unfortunately, does not work in isolation. To gain a bargaining position in the world, you have to make "them" as dependent on you as you are on them. You can't do that if you don't have a strong economy. That's what my overseas education taught me.
We all care about something, let's just make sure we don't shoot ourselves in the foot when it comes to political overzealousness.
On a side note, I would think that being Muslim equates to not just protecting our brothers and sisters, but also caring about everything else - acting against injustices else where too. Perhaps you can expand your political conscience beyond that region, and see how you can affect those closer to home as well. Which is the point of this whole post.
I'll reply tomorrow. I'm a little busy today.
Kijal - you'd want to read this book:
This one is quite good too:
Thanks Najah, often we only care about people next to us, or around us, or may it say org kita i.e. malaysians. And really even if it does affect our economy, I believe it doesn't cause our businessmen/women suffer in such as nothing to eat, no shelter etc. Again, I don't even know anything about economy, so, please excuse my lack of knowledge in it, but my sense of belonging of brotherhood/sisterhood just has no borderline. I guess the jews is at the moment with Allah's will is really successful in making most people being more isolated to its own country rather than religion which is the whole world wide... sorry again... if it doesn't make sense in economy matters, but I just have to pray that one day you would understand the whole thing that I would like to deliver. Really I am no good at delivering what I should be telling also... Just carry on with your thought, until hopefully one day Allah will guide you see the truth. Take care.