Ethical Shopping

Ethical shopping is a subject much discussed at present, but what does it actually mean to consumers? Wikipedia defines it as buying things which have caused no harm or exploitation to humans, animals or the natural environment. Our newspapers are full of tales of factory farming, climate change, sweatshops and child labour and it has been suggested that any purchase involves moral choices.

Realistically, buying is a necessary part of modern life. The nitty gritty is deciding whether we will exercise our conscience over what we buy or if we are not too bothered as long as we have whatever object it is that we desire. After all a number of mainstream retailers have been implicated in scandals about child labour and sweatshop working but we continue to buy from them. In an ideal world of course we wouldn’t even be talking about ethical shopping because it would be the norm.

Until fairly recently ethical shopping was a niche market but it is becoming more mainstream as people become more aware of environmental and ethical issues. Numbers of people buying organic or Fairtrade continues to rise as it becomes more accessable and receives a higher level of support from retailers but it is still a small part of the overall market.

There is a huge buzz of interest about sustainability or development which meets present needs but does not compromise future generations. George Monbiot in an article for The Telegraph says “There is an inherent conflict between the aspirational lifestyle journalism that makes readers feel better about themselves and sells country kitchens, and the central demand of environmentalism – that we should consume less”. So being an ethical shopper is not about continuing to take several holidays a year by air and buying things that are surplus to requirements. Perhaps the root of the problem is our rampant consumer culture which is reinforced by the media continually. Take a look at the Sunday glossies. They are selling the lifestyles that we aspire to: travel, fashion, beautiful homes.

Some say that we can’t afford to be ethical shoppers with the credit crunch but can we afford not to be? The “race to the bottom” is an expression used to describe the practice of international retailers employing developing world contractors, who cut corners to keep margins down and profits up for western paymasters. We need to be ecologically aware, supporting conservation and adopting proactive attitudes towards recycling, energy saving and carbon reduction. Promoting the welfare of animals and rights of human beings to live and work in conditions of decency.

It is my belief that all retailers should all be working towards providing more assurance to the consumer that their clothes are produced cleanly, responsibly and ethically. Unfortunately, indifference, yours, mine, theirs, to the issues is very real, I am not taking the moral high ground here. I am as guilty as the next person. Perhaps we should start out by having a system of labeling on clothing denoting that it has been produced responsibly enabling consumers to make more informed choices.

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Posted by Linda Sones

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