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Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Who’s Collecting Your Minutes?: The Ethical Wallet


greenburg_opEveryday we make hundreds of decisions, whether we are aware of them or not. Tea or coffee? Oatmeal or eggs? Walk or bike? And within the questions we ask, sit many more questions: where was the coffee you drank grown, and at what expense? What is the oatmeal company doing with the profit it’s making from your purchase? Over the next 10 weeks, I am going to educate my readers, as well as myself, about ethical consumption and becoming an informed consumer: buying from companies and brands that foster a more sustainable and moral society.

I will begin by looking into an object that depletes a portion of my income each month, and an even larger portion of my time each day: my cell phone. This small but ubiquitous tool is part of a grand and ominous industry of network providers, some of which are now among the most powerful companies in today’s society. But, many of us know little about our service provider. Aside from the paper we pay, the data limit we exceed or the date of our next “upgrade”, rarely do we sit around swapping stories about our cell phone companies.

So imagine my surprise when I recently discovered that Verizon, the network I have been a loyal member of since my first cell phone in seventh grade is heavily involved in political and policy issues.

During the 2014 election cycle, Verizon gave over $3 million mostly toward Republican candidates and PACs. The company also opposes the net neutrality agreement, which states that all service providers and the government must treat all content on the internet equally. This means that your Facebook News Feed will load at the same speed as your friend’s photo blog. Without this agreement, Verizon would have the power to speed up the highest paying web applications and effectively eliminate the others. Without healthy competition, our ability to choose between apps and services would quickly disintegrate.

Verizon was also charged with the largest disability discrimination lawsuit in the history of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), settling for $20 million. Verizon was charged with denying employees with disabilities their entitled accommodations, choosing instead to discipline or terminate them. AT&T, Sprint, TMobile and other big network providers have also done their fair share of questionable acts. In 2011, AT&T was sued by the Federal Trade Commision for slowing down user’s data by as much as 90 percent, without explanation to their customers. The Sprint SMS Premium lawsuit of 2014 settled claims that Sprint had been charging customers for a third party service without member’s knowledge.

Because nobody is perfect, I encourage you to join me in doing your own research on the brands and companies you engage with. We are all trying to find the most efficient and affordable deal, and sometimes it is tempting to turn our heads away from our social responsibilities because we can’t afford to keep both our phones and morals. There are many phone companies that not only provide strong coverage, but also give a percentage of their proceeds to nonprofits, purchase carbon offsets to makeup for their energy use and have spotless records with the EEOC.

I found a company called Working Assets, which began in 1985 and since then has given $78 million dollars to nonprofits through its services. I have recently become a proud member of Credo, their cell phone service. Through a free monthly poll, users can opt to donate to a nonprofit of their choice. Credo also has an online activist network, where the public can get updates on causes they are passionate about, complete with advice on how to get involved.

Another option, Earth Tones, is the only provider to donate 100 percent of their profits to environmental causes. Because they are owned and supported by nonprofit groups, they are able to give every penny to protecting the air, water and wilderness.

Now, all of this sounds great, but is it realistic? After looking over my options, I have decided to transition over to Credo. Not only will Credo cover my termination fees with Verizon, but they will also allow me to keep my old phone for a monthly discount.

I know we can’t all be superheroes in every aspect of our consumer lives, but there are small steps we can take.  If you aren’t currently in the position to switch providers, I recommend investing in a solar charger for your cell phone, recycling your old phone when you replace it and doing some research on what your phone company has been up to. My hope is that, as ethical consumers, the next time we’re sitting among a group of mute Instagram lurkers, we have something new to bring to the conversation, besides how many likes our breakfast got that day.

You can reach Martha Greenburg at mzgreenburg@ucdavis.edu or on Twitter @marthazane


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