GreenStar Community Weighs In on China Boycott

At the August 14 and September 11 Council meetings, the GreenStar community began a lively discussion regarding the possibility that the Co-op will lift or alter its current ban on most goods produced in the People’s Republic of China in addition to implementing other product line guideline changes. (Please see additional coverage in this and last month’s Council News columns on page 3.) In order to allow this complex and controversial discourse to continue, short statements were solicited from those at the meetings including all councilmembers, present staff, representatives from the Ithaca Tibetan Association and other community members.
Please recognize that given the limited space allotted to each contributor, a comprehensive statement of position was next to impossible.

By Jason Blake-Beach,Oasis Store Manager
For me this issue boils down to forcing your own sense of morality on others. That is what I believe is happening here and that is why I am opposed to this ban. I am Vegan and have been for some time. Like many other Vegans, I believe that the unnecessary domestication, slaughter, and consumption of other animals for their flesh, embryos, and milk is immoral and reprehensible. So why don’t we also ban those products out of respect and support for Vegan beliefs? I do not seek to impose my beliefs on other GreenStar members, thereby limiting their options and sending them elsewhere.

By Tony Del Plato,Councilmember
The GreenStar Council is wrestling with several important issues around what products to carry.
• How do we decide what to carry? Direct or representative democracy?
• Should moral and political bottom lines determine what products the co-op carries?
• To what extent should the need or desire of members for a product outweigh the moral/political arguments against carrying that product, and vice-versa?
Come to the next GreenStar Council meeting [see page 3] to voice your opinion and hear what GreenStar community members are thinking.
More about the boycott of products from the Peoples’ Republic of China:
In opposition to the boycott:

By Gary Fine,Councilmember
As food production becomes global GreenStar members find themselves purchasing frozen broccoli from China. It is time to revisit our mission and how we conduct business. The natural food industry is going global and corporate. Our primary mission is to sell wholesome, sustainably produced food. The corporatization of our supply chain necessitates that GreenStar becomes a lead player for creating local food systems or creating partnerships with cooperative and fair trade businesses whether they be in Asia or other foreign locales. The China Boycott as well as other product line and expansion decisions should be explored with this perspective.

By Robert Hackman,Member-owner
The idea of imposing a Boycott from the top-down (Council to membership) is as silly as the Chinese Communists imposing agrarian reform on the Tibetan people. Without grassroots support, the spirit of change and transformation is not there. Were the Tibetan serfs happy under theocratic feudalism? We don’t know. How many actually supported the Chinese Red Guard is vague. Whatever the case, the principles of “Democratic” GreenStar do not prosper from autocratic rule nor in the bolstering of Feudalism, spiritual or material.
Chinese products are a way of life. Ostrich medicine really does not help.

By Michael Hoysic,Human Resources Manager,Council-Management Liaison
If GreenStar wishes to enter the political dialogue about China with a product policy that includes a boycott, it should be consistent with our mission and values, while we work to meet the needs of our members and run a viable business. We feel good that we have a boycott in place while our members and shoppers go buy those products elsewhere. That best serves our competitors in town. I feel that our product guidelines should be a balance of providing what our members want to buy, our ability to provide them, and the values we all aspire to make evident in our cooperative.

By Brandon Kane,West-End Store Manager,Council-Management Liason
Instead of an all-out ban on goods from China, let’s extend our ethical buying practices to encourage buying from Chinese fair trade and co-op producers. Meeting the criteria of GreenStar’s current ban is a monumental task for the Co-op’s buyers. Although we examine every new package that is brought in, sometimes products from China may be overlooked. These products are returned to the supplier and discontinued. However, to further complicate matters, without notice, many producers change products’ or ingredients’ countries of origin. Perfect compliance with the current ban wouldn’t only be next to impossible, it would seriously degrade GreenStar’s selection.

By Madeline Maher,Councilmember (on leave)
Our cooperative’s strength lies in our membership, which Council and management serve, guided by the Cooperative Principles and our mission statement. If the Co-op’s priorities have changed, let’s hear it from, and not decide it for, the membership.
Is it acceptable to members that we knowingly go against policy? Numerous prohibited products have been carried over the years; in most cases Council has allowed the infraction, then changed the rules, retroactively.
The China Boycott is but another challenging opportunity. How will we demonstrate our version of democracy, our commitment to our principles, and what it means to be a cooperative?

By Joe Romano,Marketing Manager
I can see both sides regarding the China ban; there is a lot wrong with both the way China approaches commerce and their oppressive treatment of Tibet. But if buyers were able to choose fair trade and independent products from China, money would be sent to people who are actively working against the system. Also, forbidding certain products has an effect on our perception in the community. We have to remember that product policies actually police our customers and their shopping habits. Is that our role at GreenStar, or should we instead focus on offering better alternatives whenever we can.

By Elizabeth Salon,Member-owner
The ban on Chinese goods is a small gesture in the grand scheme of things (neighbor Wal-Mart buys $10 billion worth of Chinese merchandise yearly). But at least we can feel proud that we stood by our ethics, rather than implicitly condoning the Chinese government’s actions. As the Chinese proverb goes:
“It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” If we really want more peace and less violence, more abundance and less pollution, more prosperity and less suffering–for all people, including the Chinese–we should uphold the ban and keep this small flame alight.

By Gina Varicchio,Councilmember
I would like to see the China policy revised to contain language acknowledging that it will be enforced “to the best of our ability.” Investing Council’s time in this rather than a debate over the existence of the policy at all seems more reasonable considering the inevitability of a member referendum. An open, public revision process would serve to better educate everyone as to the issues behind the boycott, highlight the inherent difficulties with boycotts on a store level, and to inform membership of the ongoing debate. Council needs to address the current problems with the policy; a member referendum would address the existence of such a boycott.

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