Can small local businesses hold their own in a free market dominated by corporations? Committing to high ethical standards and tailoring products to their community may be key to garnering a loyal consumer base.
For time- and cash-strapped customers looking for a quick, satisfying meal, McDonald’s has long represented the mecca of fast food chains. The corporation boasts one of the highest levels of brand recognition in the business, with their Golden Arches logo recognized by an astonishing 88% of people worldwide, according to Business Insider. Despite their impressive global presence, they continue to commit significant dollars to marketing efforts: in 2014, McDonald’s spent 2.14 billion dollars on advertising alone, as Statista reports.
Keeping It LocoL
For anyone aspiring to open a fast food chain of their own, this corporate giant represents a daunting competitor. Consumers already know and love McDonald’s, and the corporation invests a fortune in keeping their customers in the loop on special deals and new products. Brand loyalty aside, how is an independent restaurant to compete with McDonald’s economy of scale?
Enter LocoL, which aims to deliver healthy, restaurant-quality food at the same price as mass market fast food. Understanding that great tasting, affordable food is often out of reach to poor communities, Chef Roy Choi hopes to “go toe to toe with fast food chains and offer the community a choice.” Initially funded through an Indiegogo campaign, LocoL’s plates cost between 4 and 7 dollars, and are already getting rave reviews on Yelp.
Additionally, LocoL has made it its mission to hire workers from disadvantaged backgrounds, thereby giving back to the communities it serves. LocoL might superficially occupy the same market sector as McDonalds, but they set themselves apart with their commitment to making a tangible social difference, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Buying American Supports Ethical Standards
LocoL offers an alternative to the high calorie, nutrient-poor options available at fast food chains. Meanwhile, efforts have been made to address another mass market industry: fast fashion. In January 2016, the poor working conditions rampant within this industry were made public by activism group Clean Clothes Campaign. They reported on H&M’s Bangladeshi operations, stating “all but one of H&M’s strategic suppliers remain behind schedule in making repairs and that over 50% of them are still lacking adequate fire exits.” Less than a month later, a fire broke out at the company’s Matrix Sweaters factory in Gazipur, Bangladesh, resulting in several injuries to workers there, according to the International Business Times.
Lower standards of industry regulation overseas mean that our cheap consumer products are made by people who don’t enjoy the protections afforded to American workers. While the public is increasingly aware of the exploitation of textile workers in the industry, many do not have the resources to opt for more expensive ethical alternatives. For socially- and budget-conscious consumers, American Apparel represents a viable alternative to H&M’s questionable worker conditions. American Apparel’s manufacturing operations aren’t free from controversy, as Time report, and their prices may not be rock bottom, but they have made great strides in eradicating abuse from their supply chain.
American Apparel‘s vertical integration manifesto states: “For us ‘sweatshop-free’ was never about criticizing other business models; it was about attempting something new. It comes down to this: not blindly outsourcing, but rather knowing the faces of our workers and providing them the opportunity to make a fair wage.” American Apparel also sets itself apart by prioritizing domestic hiring. Of its 10,000 employees worldwide, 6,500 work at the company’s L.A.-area factories.
Making a concerted effort to buy American is one way consumers can enact change with their wallets. While Americans may still suffer unfair treatment at work, and unionization is frequently disrupted, it’s generally true that American-made products are manufactured in better factory conditions by more fairly treated workers, with a largely transparent supply chain. Furthermore, problems in U.S. facilities are more likely to draw notice from the media than those that occur at sweatshops in remote countries.
While small companies face competition from formidable corporations, they play to a changing tide of customer awareness and conscious buying. Touting transparency and a commitment to ethics to a market ready for change can spell huge success.
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