Friday, November 24, 2006

Black Friday: Fun with globalisation

In America, the day after Thanksgiving is called “Black Friday” because it’s the day when retailers are in black ink—they’re finally making a profit. I always heard how the day was the biggest shopping day in America (the day after Christmas—Boxing Day in this part of the world—is the second busiest). However, I don’t ever remember hearing the day called “Black Friday” until after I moved to New Zealand.

What makes this even weirder to me is that in New Zealand “Black Friday” refers to any Friday the 13th—an unlucky day. This is the meaning that I think of whenever I hear the phrase.

In preparation for the holiday shopping season, America’s Human Rights Campaign, which bills itself as the largest gay and lesbian political organisation in the US, released its guide, Buying for Equality 2007 (thanks to
Adam at This Boy Elroy for mentioning this, or I would have missed it). The guide lists companies according to their rating on HRC’s Corporate Equality Index, which ranks companies on things like domestic partner benefits and gay and transgender inclusion in non-discrimination policies.

The guide lists not only the companies, but also the products they sell. Some companies do quite well; others don’t. Here in
New Zealand, where fundamental human rights and same-sex relationships are protected by law, the policies of American companies may seem irrelevant. After all, even a homophobic US company would have to obey NZ law if it were to operate here.

However, thanks to globalisation, companies now reach across the globe. Which means that if we here in New Zealand buy a product from an American company, we indirectly support their policies in America. Some of these companies have absolutely despicable practices.

Like Exxon/Mobil, for example. As the HRC guide explains it:

“Sexual orientation was taken out of the Exxon Mobil non-discrimination policy following Mobil's merger with Exxon; Domestic partner benefits were ended following Mobil's merger with Exxon. Mobil employees who already had DP benefits were allowed to keep them, but no other employees could join after the merger.”

So here’s a thought: Trans-national corporations push “free trade” so they can sell their products without local interference. What if we use globalisation to our advantage? What if we put pressure on the local affiliates of bad American companies? The companies may change or, more likely, they’ll ignore us. But even if they ignore us, we still have the satisfaction of not giving our money to bigots.

So, I won’t buy from Mobil until they change their policies and restore what they used to offer. In
New Zealand, the owners of BP, Caltex and Shell all received a 100 percent rating from HRC; those are the companies I’ll choose.

It’s not always easy to do things to change the world or even a little piece of it. But there are some things, like avoiding Mobil, that are easy to do. We can help to change things, one dollar at a time.

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