Working to Support Small Companies, Something Simple We Can All Do To Help
by Christina De La Rocha
Like most of the rest of the world, I have been horrified, not just by Russia’s unprovoked invasion of the Ukraine, but by the atrocities they’ve sadistically committed against ordinary people. It is literally sickening. Doubly sickening is the Russian people hiding behind the lies their government is telling them, refusing to acknowledge what their country is doing.
Meanwhile, to live in the West right is infuriating. We’re not riding in to the rescue. Paralyzed by our fear of a new world nuclear war and of collapsing our own economies, we’re doing little more than the minimum to help the Ukrainians. Yet by sitting on our thumbs, we’re letting the Russian attack carry on as far, long, and savagely as the Russians please.
I don’t like aggression, cruelty, or injustice. And I don’t like to feel helpless any more than I like to feel I’m part of the problem. Since you’re human, too, I assume you feel the same. Ditto for everyone who is donating so much to the Ukraine and to Ukrainian refugees. People where I live have emptied store shelves of diapers, bandages, and medicines, canned goods and candy, and teddy bears, toys, and clothing, packed them up and sent them on to the Polish border to be doled out to refugees or driven further into the Ukraine itself.
Myself, I’ve helped accept, sort, and clean donations, and clean and furnish apartments for the first wave of arrivals in our county, trying to keep the cots in big gymnasiums that are more temporary measures of last resort free for the people who keep streaming in. There things are literally the least we can do that is more than just shouting daily at the television showing the evening news. And what else can you do with your impotent rage?
But these things won’t stop the Russian atrocities.
The Contrast: Seeing the Suffering in Ukraine and Wanting to Help
It is important to make sure politicians understand you want them to do more to support the Ukrainian defense of their country and people. And, if it’s the case, that you’d be willing and able to endure higher prices and fuel rationing if it would help bring the Russian economy down and the invasion to a halt.
More directly helpful would be personally taking up arms and heading over to the fight, but that’s a line I’m not ready to cross and, I suspect, neither are you.
The only other thing I can think of to do is to contribute to the cultural and financial isolation of Russia. This would mostly be to encourage Russia to end their assault on the Ukraine. But it would also be because no country that behaves so abominably to another, lies outrageously about it, and then parades are playing the victim deserves to participate in world trade or affairs. End of story. They can come back in 50 years, truly repentant and much reformed, and then maybe we can think about it.
We’d been hoping to wait until we had enough money to make the change, but after the atrocities in Bucha, there is no way that Spouse and I will ever buy heating oil again (since nearly half of it here comes from Russia). We will take out a loan ASAP, rip out our oil burner, and replace it with a heat pump that we will run using electricity purchased from a wind farm in our region. This will, in time, lead to our own solar panels and batteries generating and dispensing the electricity need to warm water, cook food, run lights, and charge the car.
But what else? And what faster? There’s not much power in boycotting what you already don’t buy (i.e., Russian vodka and caviar). But what about boycotting companies that blatantly refuse to stop doing business in Russia.
Turns out, there is a list, which is curated by the Yale School of Management.
It further turns out that going through this list is overwhelming. There are at least 500 companies on it assigned to one of five categories. These categories include the good (companies that made a clean break with Russia), the neutral good (companies that have suspended business with or in Russia, but have left a foot in the door), the bad (companies that have scaled slightly back), the ugly (companies merely suspending new ventures in Russia), and the evil (companies that are proudly defying calls to stop doing business in or with Russia).
That’s complicated but, still, you think you can devise a reasonable game plan for your shopping. But when you sit down and go through it, you realize that every company on this list, regardless of its category, is by definition a multinational. Multinationals generally have subsidiaries. This puts them in charge of a dizzying number of brands. This means that even with the list, if you don’t want to buy from a company that is still doing business in Russia, you need to be a good detective and have eagle eyes for fine print on labels.
Honestly, before I ran through this exercise myself, I did not realize how impossible it is to buy stuff that doesn’t come from a giant conglomerate. They are shifty. They own tons of brands that you’d never guess were related. Sometimes these companies own many different brands of the same thing (e.g., candy, chewing gum, pet food, cosmetics, household cleaning and personal care products, meat and dairy products). So many, in fact, the variety of items on grocery store shelves looks like healthy competition and consumer choice, but represents something close to a monopoly. Most of us have no idea we have little choice to whom we give our money.
But there is one last alternative. We could spend our money on true underdogs, which would also take some sleuthing to figure out who the small, truly independent companies are.
Finding a Way to Support Small Companies
This also isn’t easy. And small companies get bought by bigger concerns all the time, so you have to stay on your toes. But there are certain things you can do to make it easier for you to succeed.
Where I live, for instance, we can buy fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy products directly from farmers in farmyard shops or at weekly markets (known in many parts of the world as farmer’s markets). In other parts of the world, subscribing to farm’s weekly produce baskets is a good option. Bread is a biggie. We’re lucky that can buy our bread at the organic bakery that also grows and stone grinds its own wheat and spelt. We’re also lucky that in Germany in general, locally owned, independent bakeries have not gone entirely extinct.
With the internet, it’s easy to find small shops that produce the clothes that they sell. We don’t eat out much, but when we do, we try not to aim for franchises, but independent, often family-run restaurants.
This old school, run of the mill advice won’t save the world, but it can help stop you from supporting multinational businesses that are supporting Russia. This small-businesses-mainly approach also supports the local economy instead of shooting your dollars straight up to CEOs and shareholders who live who knows where and dodge taxes. It helps farmers get paid reasonably for the food that they produce and you’ll end up buying less highly process food.
Which is to say, this approach might cost you a bit more than buying a multinational’s brand, but what you’ll get in return is a better product, peace of mind, and more prosperity for your own community.