Ethical consumerism

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Ethical consumerism (alternatively called ethical consumption, ethical purchasing, moral purchasing, ethical sourcing, ethical shopping also associated with sustainable and green consumerism) is a type of consumer activism based on the concept of dollar voting. [1] It is practiced through the buying of ethically-made products that support small scale manufacturers and local artisans while protecting animals and the environment, and boycott' products that exploit children as workers, are tested on animals, or damage the environment. [2]

Contents

The term "ethical consumer", now used generically, was first popularised by the UK magazine Ethical Consumer , first published in 1989. [3] Ethical Consumer magazine's key innovation was to produce 'ratings tables', inspired by the criteria-based approach of the then-emerging ethical investment movement. Ethical Consumer's ratings tables awarded companies negative marks (and from 2005 overall scores) across a range of ethical and environmental categories such as 'animal rights', 'human rights' and 'pollution and toxics', empowering consumers to make ethically informed consumption choices and providing campaigners with reliable information on corporate behaviour. Such criteria-based ethical and environmental ratings have subsequently become commonplace both in providing consumer information and in business-to-business corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings such as those provided by Innovest, Calvert Foundation, Domini, IRRC, TIAA–CREF and KLD Analytics. Today, Bloomberg and Reuters provide "environmental, social and governance" ratings direct to the financial data screens of hundreds of thousands of stock market traders. [4] The not-for-profit Ethical Consumer Research Association continues to publish Ethical Consumer and its associated website, which provides free access to ethical rating tables.

Although single-source ethical consumerism guides such as Ethical Consumer, Shop Ethical [5] , and The Good Shopping Guide [6] have proven to be popular, they suffer from the drawback of incomplete coverage. User-generated ethical reviews are more likely, long-term, to provide democratic, in-depth coverage of a wider range of products and businesses. [7] The Green Stars Project [8] promotes the idea of including ethical ratings (on a scale of 1-5 green stars) alongside conventional ratings on retail sites such as Amazon or review sites such as Yelp.

The term political consumerism first used in a study titled “The Gender Gap Reversed: Political Consumerism as a Women-Friendly Form of Civic and Political Engagement” from authors Dietlind Stolle and Michele Micheletti is identical to idea of ethical consumerism; however in this study, the authors found that political consumerism is a form of social participation that often goes overlooked at the time of writing and needs to be accounted for in future studies of social participation. [9]

Consumer groups

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, people began to have formal consumer movement to ensure that people will get value for their money for the things they purchased in industrialised countries. This kind of movements focused on the unfair labor practices of the companies, labelling requirements of food, cosmetics, drugs and etc. Examples to the consumer movements were Consumer League which was established in New York, USA in 1891, National Consumers League created in USA in 1898, Consumers Council which was established during World War I in Great Britain. During that time workers were not well-paid, they did not have secure employment with benefit of social protection, working conditions was decent and in this Irish trade union movement focused the ILO policy of campaigning for decent work wherever there is an opportunity for job improvement or job creation. [10]

Basis

Global morality

An electric wire reel reused as a center table in a Rio de Janeiro decoration fair. When consumers choose and reuse environmentally friendly material like this, they are practicing ethical consumerism. Electric wire reel reused in a furniture ecodesign.jpg
An electric wire reel reused as a center table in a Rio de Janeiro decoration fair. When consumers choose and reuse environmentally friendly material like this, they are practicing ethical consumerism.

In Unequal Freedoms: The Global Market As An Ethical System (1998), John McMurtry argues that no purchasing decision exists that does not itself imply some moral choice, and that there is no purchasing that is not ultimately moral in nature. This mirrors older arguments, especially by the Anabaptists, e.g. Mennonites, Amish, that one must accept all personal moral and spiritual liability of all harms done at any distance in space or time to anyone by one's own choices. It is often suggested that Judeo-Christian scriptures further direct followers towards practising good stewardship of the Earth, under an obligation to a God who is believed to have created the planet for us to share with other creatures. A similar argument presented from a secular humanist point of view is that it is simply better for human beings to acknowledge that the planet supports life only because of a delicate balance of many different factors.

Spending as morality

Some trust criteria, e.g. creditworthiness or implied warranty, are considered to be part of any purchasing or sourcing decision. However, these terms refer to broader systems of guidance that would, ideally, cause any purchasing decision to disqualify offered products or services based on non-price criteria that affect the moral rather than the functional liabilities of the entire production process. Paul Hawken, a proponent of natural capitalism, refers to "comprehensive outcomes" of production services as opposed to the "culminative outcomes" of using the product of such services.[ citation needed ] Often, moral criteria are part of a much broader shift away from commodity markets towards a deeper service economy where all activities, from growing to harvesting to processing to delivery, are considered part of the value chain and for which consumers are "responsible".

Andrew Wilson, Director of the UK's Ashridge Centre for Business and Society, argues that "Shopping is more important than voting", and that the disposition of money is the most basic role we play in any system of economics. [11] Some theorists believe that it is the clearest way that we express our actual moral choices, i.e., if we say we care about something but continue to buy from parties that have a high probability of risk of harm or destruction of that thing, we don't really care about it, we are practising a form of simple hypocrisy.

In an effort by churches to advocate moral and ethical consumerism, many have become involved in the Fair Trade movement:

Standards and labels

A number of standards, labels and marks have been introduced for ethical consumers, such as the following:

Along with disclosure of ingredients, some mandatory labelling of origins of clothing or food is required in all developed nations. This practice has been extended in some developing nations, e.g., where every item carries the name, phone number and fax number of the factory where it was made so a buyer can inspect its conditions. And, more importantly, to prove that the item was not made by "prison labor", use of which to produce export goods is banned in most developed nations. Such labels have also been used for boycotts, as when the merchandise mark Made in Germany was introduced in 1887.

These labels serve as tokens of some reliable validation process, some instructional capital, [19] much as does a brand name or a nation's flag. They also signal some social capital, or trust, in some community of auditors that must follow those instructions to validate those labels.

Verus Carbon Neutral Sign.JPG

Some companies in the United States, though currently not required to reduce their carbon footprint, are doing so voluntarily by changing their energy use practices, as well as by directly funding (through carbon offsets), businesses that are already sustainable—or are developing or improving green technologies for the future.

In 2009, Atlanta's Virginia-Highland neighborhood became the first Carbon-Neutral Zone in the United States. Seventeen merchants in Virginia-Highland allowed their carbon footprint to be audited. Now, they are partnered with the Valley Wood Carbon Sequestration Project—thousands of acres of forest in rural Georgia—through the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX). [20] [21] The businesses involved in the partnership display the Verus Carbon Neutral seal in each store front and posted a sign prominently declaring the area's Carbon Neutral status. (CCX ceased trading carbon credits at the end of 2010 due to inactivity in the U.S. carbon markets, [22] although carbon exchanges were intended to still be facilitated.) [23] [24]

Over time, some[ who? ] theorists suggest, the amount of social capital or trust invested in nation-states (or "flags") will continue to decrease, and that placed in corporations (or "brands") will increase. This can only be offset by retrenched national sovereignty to reinforce shared national standards in tax, trade, and tariff laws, and by placing the trust in civil society in such "moral labels". These arguments have been a major focus of the anti-globalization movement, which includes many broader arguments against the amoral nature of markets as such. However, the economic school of Public Choice Theory pioneered by James M. Buchanan has offered counter-arguments based on an economic demonstration to this theory of 'amoral markets' versus 'moral governments'.

Areas of concern

Ethical Consumer Research Association, the alternative consumer organisation, collects and categorises information of more than 30,000 companies according to their performance in five main areas, composing the Ethiscore:

Research

GfK NOP, the market research group, has made a five-country study of consumer beliefs about the ethics of large companies. The report was described in a Financial Times article published on February 20, 2007 entitled "Ethical consumption makes mark on branding", [ dead link ] [26] and was followed up by an online debate/discussion hosted by FT.com. [27] The countries surveyed were Germany, the United States, Britain, France and Spain. More than half of respondents in Germany and the US believed there is a serious deterioration in standards of corporate practice. Almost half of those surveyed in Britain, France and Spain held similar beliefs.

About a third of respondents told researchers they would pay higher prices for ethical brands though the perception of various companies' ethical or unethical status varied considerably from country to country.

The most ethically perceived brands were The Co-op (in the UK), Coca-Cola (in the US), Danone (in France), Adidas (in Germany) and Nestlé (in Spain). Coca-Cola, Danone, Adidas and Nestlé did not appear anywhere in the UK's list of 15 most ethical companies. Nike appeared in the lists of the other four countries but not in the UK's list.

In the UK, The Co-operative Bank has produced an Ethical Consumerism Report [28] (formerly the Ethical Purchasing Index) since 2001. The report measures the market size and growth of a basket of 'ethical' products and services, and valued UK ethical consumerism at GBP36.0 billion (~USD54.4 billion) in 2008, and GBP47.2 billion (USD72.5 billion) in 2012.

A number of organisations provide research-based evaluations of the behavior of companies around the world, assessing them along ethical dimensions such as human rights, the environment, animal welfare and politics. Green America is a not-for-profit membership organization founded in 1982 that provides the Green American Seal of Approval and produces a "Responsible Shopper" guide to "alert consumers and investors to problems with companies that they may shop with or invest in." [29] The Ethical Consumer Research Association is a not-for-profit workers' co-operative founded in the UK in 1988 to "provide information on the companies behind the brand names and to promote the ethical use of consumer power" [30] which provides an online searchable database under the name Corporate Critic [31] or Ethiscore. [32] The Ethiscore is a weightable numerical rating designed as a quick guide to the ethical status of companies, or brands in a particular area, and is linked to a more detailed ethical assessment. "alonovo" is an online shopping portal that provides similar weightable ethical ratings termed the "Corporate Social Behavior Index". [33]

Conscientious consumption

The consumer rationalizes unnecessary and even unwanted consumption by saying that "it's for a good cause". [34] As a result, the consumer buys pink ribbons during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, green products to support the environment, candy and popcorn from school children, greeting cards and gift wrap from charities, and many other, often unwanted objects. The consumer avoids considering whether the price offered is fair, whether a small cash donation would be more effective with far less work, or even whether selling the item is consistent with the ostensible mission, such as when sports teams sell candy.

Some of these efforts are based on concept brands: the consumer is buying an association with women's health or environmental concerns as much as she or he is buying a tangible product. [34]

Alternative giving

In response to an increasing demand for ethical consumerism surrounding gift-giving occasions, charities have promoted an alternative gift market, in which charitable contributions are made on behalf of the gift "recipient". The "recipient" receives a card explaining the selected gift, while the actual gift item (frequently agricultural supplies or domestic animals) is sent to a family in a poor community. [35]

Criticism

Critics argue that the ability to effect structural change is limited to ethical consumerism. Some cite the preponderance of niche markets as the actual effect of ethical consumerism, [36] while others argue that information is limited regarding the outcomes of a given purchase, preventing consumers from making informed ethical choices.[ citation needed ] Critics have also argued that the uneven distribution of wealth prevents consumerism, ethical or otherwise, from fulfilling its democratic potential. [37]

One study suggests that "Buying Green" serves as a license for unethical behavior – in their 2009 paper, "Do Green Products Make Us Better People?", [38] Nina Mazar, Chen-Bo Zhong state the following:

In line with the halo associated with green consumerism, people act more altruistically after mere exposure to green than conventional products. However, people act less altruistically and are more likely to cheat and steal after purchasing green products as opposed to conventional products. Together, the studies show that consumption is more tightly connected to our social and ethical behaviors in directions and domains other than previously thought.

In a 2010 The Guardian article, British environmental writer and activist George Monbiot argued that green consumers who do not articulate their values are part of "a catastrophic mistake" on the grounds that such consumerism "strengthens extrinsic values" (those that "concern status and self-advancement"), thereby "making future campaigns less likely to succeed". [39]

See also

Related Research Articles

Fair trade form of trade

Fair trade is an institutional arrangement designed to help producers in developing countries achieve better trading conditions. Members of the fair trade movement advocate the payment of higher prices to exporters, as well as improved social and environmental standards. The movement focuses in particular on commodities, or products which are typically exported from developing countries to developed countries, but also consumed in domestic markets most notably handicrafts, coffee, cocoa, wine, sugar, fresh fruit, chocolate, flowers and gold. The movement seeks to promote greater equity in international trading partnerships through dialogue, transparency, and respect. It promotes sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers in developing countries. Fair trade is grounded in three core beliefs; first, producers have the power to express unity with consumers. Secondly, the world trade practices that currently exist promote the unequal distribution of wealth between nations. Lastly, buying products from producers in developing countries at a fair price is a more efficient way of promoting sustainable development than traditional charity and aid.

Greenwashing Use of the aesthetic of conservationism to promote organisations

Greenwashing, also called "green sheen", is a form of marketing spin in which green PR and green marketing are deceptively used to persuade the public that an organization's products, aims and policies are environmentally friendly and therefore ‘better’; appeal to nature. Common examples present in the marketing of food products, alternative medicine and natural medicine.

Corporate social responsibility Form of corporate self-regulation aimed at contributing to social or charitable goals

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a type of international private business self-regulation that aims to contribute to societal goals of a philanthropic, activist, or charitable nature by engaging in or supporting volunteering or ethically-oriented practices. While once it was possible to describe CSR as an internal organisational policy or a corporate ethic strategy, that time has passed as various international laws have been developed and various organisations have used their authority to push it beyond individual or even industry-wide initiatives. While it has been considered a form of corporate self-regulation for some time, over the last decade or so it has moved considerably from voluntary decisions at the level of individual organisations, to mandatory schemes at regional, national and international levels.

Eco-capitalism, also known as environmental capitalism or (sometimes) green capitalism, is the view that capital exists in nature as "natural capital" on which all wealth depends. Therefore, governments should use market-based policy-instruments to resolve environmental problems.

Ecolabel labeling systems for food and consumer products

Eco-labels and Green Stickers are labeling systems for food and consumer products. Ecolabels are voluntary, but green stickers are mandated by law; for example, in North America major appliances and automobiles use Energy Star. They are a form of sustainability measurement directed at consumers, intended to make it easy to take environmental concerns into account when shopping. Some labels quantify pollution or energy consumption by way of index scores or units of measurement, while others assert compliance with a set of practices or minimum requirements for sustainability or reduction of harm to the environment. Many ecolabels are focused on minimising the negative ecological impacts of primary production or resource extraction in a given sector or commodity through a set of good practices that are captured in a sustainability standard. Through a verification process, usually referred to as "certification", a farm, forest, fishery, or mine can show that it complies with a standard and earn the right to sell its products as certified through the supply chain, often resulting in a consumer-facing ecolabel.

Ethical Consumer Research Ltd is a not-for-profit publisher, research and campaign organisation which publishes information on the social, ethical and environmental behaviour of companies and issues around trade justice and ethical consumption. It was founded in 1989 by Rob Harrison and Jane Turner.

Green brands are those brands that consumers associate with environmental conservation and sustainable business practices.

Sustainability advertising is communications geared towards promoting social, economic and environmental benefits of products, services or actions through paid advertising in media in order to encourage responsible behavior of consumers.

Green marketing is the marketing of products that are presumed to be environmentally safe. It incorporates a broad range of activities, including product modification, changes to the production process, sustainable packaging, as well as modifying advertising. Yet defining green marketing is not a simple task where several meanings intersect and contradict each other; an example of this will be the existence of varying social, environmental and retail definitions attached to this term. Other similar terms used are environmental marketing and ecological marketing.

Ethical marketing refers to the application of marketing ethics into the marketing process. Briefly, marketing ethics refers to the philosophical examination, from a moral standpoint, of particular marketing issues that are matters of moral judgment. Ethical marketing generally results in a more socially responsible and culturally sensitive business community. The establishment of marketing ethics has the potential to benefit society as a whole, both in the short- and long-term. Ethical marketing should be part of business ethics in the sense that marketing forms a significant part of any business model. Study of Ethical marketing should be included in applied ethics and involves examination of whether or not an honest and factual representation of a product or service has been delivered in a framework of cultural and social values.

Sustainable fashion is a movement and process of fostering change to fashion products and the fashion system towards greater ecological integrity and social justice. Sustainable fashion concerns more than addressing fashion textiles or products. It comprises addressing the whole system of fashion. This means dealing with interdependent social, cultural, ecological and financial systems. It also means considering fashion from the perspective of many stakeholders - users and producers, all living species, contemporary and future dwellers on earth. Sustainable fashion therefore belongs to, and is the responsibility of, citizens, public sector and private sector. A key example of the need for systems thinking in fashion is that the benefits of product-level initiatives, such as replacing one fiber type for a less environmentally harmful option, is eaten up by increasing volumes of fashion products. An adjacent term to sustainable fashion is eco fashion.

Frontier Co-op is a cooperatively owned wholesaler of natural and organic products, founded in 1976 and based in Norway, Iowa. It sells products under the Frontier Co-op, Simply Organic and Aura Cacia brands. Products include culinary herbs, spices and baking flavors; bulk herbs and spices; and natural and organic aromatherapy products. Frontier Co-op manufactures and distributes products throughout the United States and Canada.

GoodGuide.Com is an online web, iPhone app and Android app tool which enables consumers to retrieve evaluations of the health, environmental, and social impacts of consumer products such as toys, food, and detergents.

International Resources for Fairer Trade (IRFT) is a non-profit organisation registered as a Public Charitable Trust under the Bombay Public Charitable Trust Act. It was founded by Kirit Dave and Jan Simmonds in October 1995. Vinita Singh was the first Director of IRFT during the period 1996-2002 and tied up with DFID, and Traidcraft. Arun Raste succeeded her as the Director in IRFT and was heading the organisation till 2008, during which time IRFT opened 2nd office in Hyderabad and forged partnership with Hivos, BTC and Oxfam. During the tenure of Arun Raste, IRFT also forged partnerships with SAI, FLO, Better Cotton Initiative and FLA.

Sustainable products are those products that provide environmental, social and economic benefits while protecting public health and environment over their whole life cycle, from the extraction of raw materials until the final disposal.

Choice editing refers to the active process of controlling or limiting the choices available to consumers so as to drive to an end goal, specifically by banning things or imposing punitive taxation. The term has gained currency in discussions about sustainability.

An alternative purchase network (APN) is a contemporary commerce channel established as an alternative to perceived consumerism, and the cultural and economic hegemony of the global market. Alternative purchase networks aim to promote ethical shopping behaviour, which has an environmentally-friendly approach and considers local realities.

Green consumption is closely related to the notions of sustainable development or sustainable consumer behaviour. It is a form of consumption that is compatible with the safeguard of the environment for the present and for the next generations. It is a concept which ascribes to consumers responsibility or co-responsibility for addressing environmental problems through adoption of environmentally friendly behaviors, such as the use of organic products, clean and renewable energy and the research of goods produced by companies with zero, or almost zero, impact.

Critical consumption is the conscious choice of buying or not buying a specific product according to ethical and political beliefs. The critical consumer recognizes the importance of considering some characteristics of the product and its realization, such as environmental sustainability and respect of workers’ rights. Indeed, critical consumers take full responsibility for the environmental, social and political effects of their choices. The critical consumer can sympathize with certain social movement goals and contributes towards them through modifying their consumption behavior.

Slow fashion, the alternative to fast fashion and part of what has been called the "slow movement", advocates for principles similar to the principles of slow food, such as good quality, clean environment, and fairness for both consumers and producers.

References

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Further reading