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ISSUE 121 VOL 2 PUBLISHED 9/28/2007

Social ethics caricatu(red)

By Miriam Samuelson
News Editor

Friday, September 28, 2007

The (RED) campaign is everywhere. From the United States to Rwanda, from American Express to the Gap, consumers now have the power to help women and children with HIV/AIDS in Africa.

And thanks to Bono and Bobby Shriver, founders of the movement, all we have to do to assist the campaign is what we just happen to do best: buy stuff.

From a business and global interdependence perspective, the campaign is genius. It works in tandem with the ONE campaign - a lobbyist-type group that relies on membership to work against global poverty - and Debt AIDS Trade Africa (DATA), an organization that works with G-8 nations to end poverty in developing nations.

Consumers may find the (RED) logo (the color red represents the urgency of the AIDS pandemic in Africa, the parentheses an embrace) on products from American Express, Converse, Gap, Emporio Armani, Motorola and Apple (with more companies soon to join).

A portion of the profits from (RED) products goes to the Global Fund to fight AIDS in African countries. The campaign emphasizes that it is not charity; it is a business strategy. And as such, it's well thought-out and effective. It takes into account all aspects of global trade.

The Campaign seeks to "kick-start a steady flow of corporate money into the Global Fund," funneling money from the private sector into the fight against AIDS and poverty.

While I respect Bono's relentless efforts and can see the tangible outcomes of such a comprehensive campaign, I think that it falls short in one area: a conscience about consumerism and the massive impact that American over-consumption has on the rest of the world.

The (RED) campaign plays up our (very real) consumer power to change the world, but it encourages us to keep mindlessly consuming in order to create this change. In supporting the consumerist status quo, the campaign does little to encourage American citizens to examine how luxurious and excessive our lifestyles really are.

I fit right into this category - like many St. Olaf students, I own an iPod, a cell phone, a closet full of clothes and random paraphernalia from the dollar section at Target.

I know that these habits are hard, if not nearly impossible, to change. But I think an examination of our values and the way we apply them in our daily lives is a good start.

Speaking of values, the (RED) campaign taps into what we Oles hold most prized: our lives of worth and service and our ability to uphold respect, integrity, celebration and honesty.

Is consumerism our only outlet for creating social change, or can we venture to actually think about our choices themselves, who and what drives them and why we choose to acquiesce to societal normalcies?

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) - with which St. Olaf is affiliated - follows the accompaniment model of service in its global endeavors, a model that emphasizes mutuality and solidarity.

It seeks to have people work alongside one another in their struggles, to break down barriers of class and power differences and to acknowlege the humanity in others.

While many students at St. Olaf do not identify as Lutheran or even Christian, we can still evaluate this model of service as it relates to our global actions - after all, it is part of the larger rhetoric that St. Olaf touts as it prepares us to be citizens of the world.

Instead of focusing on what we can buy to help others, we can focus on solidarity.

We can examine the relationship between the "Made in Guatemala" label on our t-shirt and the reality of sweatshop labor in Central America.

We need to acknowledge that while we complain about needing air conditioning and better washing machines, much of the world lives in destitute poverty with little access to sanitary water at all.

I think that we as consumers - and integrity-driven Oles - could use a little more empathy for lifestyles other than our own.

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