I picked upÂ Ethical Chic: The Inside Story of the Companies We Think We LoveÂ by Fran Hawthorne at my local library because I figured the book would be good for a laugh. Â I was not wrong. Â I was also treated to a view inside modern liberalism that I did not expect. Â The wholeÂ premiseÂ of the book is an investigation to determine ifÂ someÂ of the companies most beloved of the American left really live up to the chic, progressive image they project to the world. Â The companies profiled are Starbucks, American Apparel, Tom’s of Maine, Trader Joe’s, Timberland, and Apple. Â I will also be upfront and admit that I have never bought products from four of these companies, two of which I had never heard of. Â I have boughtÂ TimberlandÂ boots and Starbucks coffee before although I am not a regular of either. Â I actually buy a different brand of boots nowadays and have decided that I am tooÂ cheapÂ to pay $6Â forÂ a cup of coffee.
The book is quite short at 168 pages and is separated into 7 chapters with a notes section but no index. I find the lack of an index disturbing but that is probably the latent academic in me. I found the acknowledgment of author bias in the introduction refreshing as you donâ€™t often see that in books such as this.
The companies are evaluated based on three criteria with various sub-criteria. They are:
I. Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Environmental/Humane
- Reduce energy use
- Alternative energy
- Reduce waste/recycle
- No animal cruelty
- Natural/organics/no PVCâ€™s etc
- Local sourcing
II. Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Working conditions
- Pay & benefits
- “Best Companiesâ€ lists
- Overseas sweatshops
- Sexual harassment
III. Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Public service
- Product price
- Community and public service
- Customer service
- Public information
From the evaluation criteria alone I got a good laugh especially the environmental piece. The most often quoted organization in the book is PETA. I will be honest and admit that to me PETA is a joke, they could be a relevant organization but instead they have decided to go down the route of caricature to the point that I almost deliberately buy products PETA recommends against out of sheer spite. I grew up on a farm, a beef ranch in particular, and thus have no problem with eating meat, using leather, or wearing fur. PETA is the antithesis of all that. The next criteria I got a laugh out of was the constant harping by the author about unions. She presents it as axiomatic that unions are a GOOD thing and we should all be sad that non-union shops exist. Never mind the fact that none of the companies she profiles are union shops or that as she says sadly again and again throughout the book that only 7% of US private-sector workers are unionized.
For me the book was a source of nonstop laughs as I read her assertions that such and such company did not recycle/use solar/unionize/give paid volunteer hours/ ad nauseaum. The author has picked every hobby horse of the American Left and beats these companies up if they donâ€™yt meet the ideal. She does throw the caveat out there that they have to make money and tends to run down consumers who buy products based on what they afford rather than how subjectively ethical a company is.
While I canâ€™t recommend this book as being anything serious I am sure liberals love it. It sticks it to the man and holds these companies feet to the fire of liberal responsibility. However hilarious that is. As readers of my blog probably know, I am not a liberal, far from it. I also highly doubt too many of my readers are liberals either. I just cannot imagine that many liberals would bother to read a site dedicated to military history since war is so anathema to the modern progressive/liberal set. The analysis did not pretend to be anything but subjective. Therefore I could not take any of them seriously though I can imagine some earnest young, no doubt female, college student in a liberal arts program would find the analysis compelling.
I cannot recommend this book as anything but light reading, it was worth a couple of good laughs though. I found the constant harping about unions to be especially hilarious. It sounded like someone complaining about all these newfangled cars on the road because when they were kids a horse-drawn buggy was good enough.