Frequently Asked Questions
A “major” vendor is one on which we spend 1% or more of our procurement budget in a given year. What does this mean in real dollars?
Our procurement budget in 2000-01 was around $15 million. One percent of this is $150,000.
Why isn’t (blank) on the list of priorities?
The list of priorities in the current draft is our take on the issues of wide and deep concern among Earlham faculty, staff, and students. We have revised it in light of community comments and it remains open to revision.
There are two reasons to keep the list reasonably short. First, the longer the list, the more research must be done to implement the policy. Second, the longer the list, the more we limit our freedom to pick the vendor with the most suitable product or the lowest bid. Since the whole community pays a price for enlarging the list, we should only put items on the list which have wide community support.
Finally, note that the priority list is not a list of all our values. It reflects our values in light of our resources.
I don’t feel the need to avoid vendors which manufacture alcohol (or tobacco, gambling, or armaments). Why is this in the policy?
This part of the vendor policy comes directly from Earlham’s investment policy. Clearly not all members of the Earlham community object to alcohol, tobacco, gambling, or armaments. Since 1973, however, Earlham has operated under a written policy not to invest in these industries, and has probably operated under the same policy in unwritten form as long as it has had an endowment.
The objection to alcohol arises from Quaker principles. Quaker advices and queries have a long history of opposition to alcohol, citing its injurious social and personal effects and its connection to poverty, crime, and some social injustices. For these reasons, Quaker groups discourage the use of alcohol or sharing in its manufacture or sale. There are comparable testimonies on tobacco, gambling, and armaments.
The community could open the question of alcohol vendors if it were also willing to open the question of alcohol investments. The Vendor Relations Committee thought this issue was larger than the one it was asked to resolve, but one which the larger community has a right to take up at any time if it wishes.
Why start with a positive statement of values when the bulk of the statement is about avoiding complicity in harm and wrongdoing?
We acknowledge that good people shoulder the dual burdens of avoiding evil and pursuing good. But we have reasons to think that making both tasks obligatory when selecting vendors would be unrealistic and unwise. We describe our reasons in the statement of principles itself.
When we have the knowledge and community support to do both, then we should do both and we say so. But when we cannot, we give priority to avoiding complicity in harm and wrongdoing. In this sense, the principles resemble the Hippocratic Oath which commands us, above all, to do no harm.
This explains our focus on avoiding harm. But why open with a statement of our positive values? We cannot define harm or evil independently of our vision of good. We cannot describe what we seek to avoid, or why we seek to avoid it, without describing what we seek.
Why not take account of small vendors whose conduct might be much influenced by our willingness or unwillingness to do business with them?
We do. Minor vendors complicit in harm fall into the conscience clause. The principles make a response to them permissible but not obligatory.
When we do choose to respond, we have the flexibility to take many kinds of action. When we can influence a vendor to change its conduct, we will do so rather than cease to do business with it.
Finally, if this question is asking why we don’t make it obligatory, rather than merely permissible, to nudge small vendors toward better conduct, then see our reply to the previous question.
Isn’t it important to focus less on how Earlham is affected than on how the wider world is affected?
Yes, and that’s exactly where we’ve put the emphasis. When our money goes to a company which pollutes or discriminates, the effect on the environment or workers is primary. All other effects, including the effect on Earlham, are secondary. The principles are not about the effect on Earlham, but the effect of Earlham’s money on the wider world.
When we monitor vendors and bring ethical criteria to bear on the selection of vendors, we are not anxious about our purity. We admit that purity is unattainable. The principles are not about taint, symbolic protests, or empty good will. They are about noticing when our money actually supports conduct we deplore, and taking steps to steer our money elsewhere. They are very practical and outward-looking.