Consumers: What's on your yuletide agenda?
Activists ramps up efforts for various causes this season. Success levels vary.
When Debra Bercuvitz goes Christmas shopping, she does more than seek out perfect gifts. She protects her neighbors' jobs, fights corporate greed, and preserves the character of small-town New England.Skip to next paragraph
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That's how the Leverett, Mass., resident views her commitment to buy primarily from local merchants – the likes of whom live nearby and sponsor her children's sports teams – rather than from national chain retailers.
"I'm trying to support those businesses that are on the edge, where there's not massive executive compensation, and where they put in 70 hours per week in their own store," says Ms. Bercuvitz, a social service project administrator and part-time chicken farmer. "They need it even more right now" in a tough economy.
'Tis the season, it seems, for giving every purchase extra purpose. For some consumers, Christmas isn't complete until they have also advanced their personal agendas for making the world a better place.
For years now, consumer activists have been turning up the heat at this time of year when shoppers bundle up and hit the malls. Jewelers receive preprinted cards urging them to stop selling gold from irresponsible mines. Stores that wish everyone "Happy Holidays!" get boycotted for failing to acknowledge Christmas explicitly. In Canada, Mennonites and others behind the "Buy Nothing Christmas" movement keep all purchases to a minimum in order to underscore the perils of excessive consumption.
"We're seeing across the entire area of consumption, at least in North America, a move from an amoral stance – where we aren't considering the ethical ramifications of what we're buying – to much more of a moral stance," says Robert Kozinets, associate professor of marketing at York University in Toronto and co-editor of "Consumer Tribes." "This is all part of a much larger pattern of people connecting with one another and starting to inquire about the consequences of being members of a consumer society."
As these movements mature, some Christmas-season activists seem to be making an impact while others have yet to realize much progress. Results apparently depend on more than grass-roots passion. Having an organized campaign with money, paid staff, and a modest set of goals enables some to claim far more success than others.