During our Friday sessions, some of our time has been set aside to discuss issues of social justice. Each of us will have the opportunity to lead the conversation on a matter that’s important to us, and Elisabeth continued the series by sharing about Ethical Consumption.
You can read part one on this topic of ethical consumption by clicking here.
Last time, we dipped into the discussion about how to go about incorporating intention into buying practices. Consider this: you’re at the store, hands on an item, and you have a decision to make. For me, that decision is, do I buy the cheap coffee, or do I buy the coffee that’s a bit more expensive but is advertised to be made in a fair trade manner?
It can seem like a silly question, even petty. But whatever it looks like for each of us, purchasing something we want or need (which is an entirely different subject to discuss) does not always have a clear answer, and it’s important that we ask some questions that will help us unpack those complications.
- What makes it difficult to consume ethically? (price, convenience, etc.)
- What are some possible responses to these challenges?
When we expand our perspective to realize we’re not the only ones impacted by our shopping decisions, we’ll face some tough questions that challenge our generosity, our budget, and our comfort. As I shared in the first post, I don’t have the means to make a full transformation overnight. So, I take baby steps and hope that I can continue to make incremental changes with the awareness of how my actions impact those around me.
The Journal of Consumer Research did a study back in 2014 to answer this question:
“Why are consumers willing to spend more money on ethical products?”
And they made three motivations: “Contempt happens when ethical consumers feel anger and disgust toward the corporations and governments they consider responsible for environmental pollution and labor exploitation. Concern stems from a concern for the victims of rampant consumerism, including workers, animals, ecosystems, and future generations. Celebration occurs when ethical consumers experience joy from making responsible choices and hope from thinking about the collective impact of their individual choices.”
This study confirms that it’s necessary to take both positive and negative actions. For me, I knew that I didn’t have the means to completely transform the way that I consume materials, so I narrowed my decisions down to a couple of integral items in my life: clothing and coffee. I made the negative choice of deciding not to support companies that I couldn’t for sure say were operating ethically, so I’ve been doing as much secondhand shopping as I can. On the other hand, I made the positive choice buy fair trade coffee. So a negative choice might look like a boycott – to completely reject a company by withdrawing your support or saying that you won’t shop there until they reform. A positive choice would be one that actively seeks out organizations that are doing good and supporting them in their difficult work.
- Brainstorm: What items do you consider to be necessities? Pick one of those items and consider how you might alter the way that you acquire that item.
- Take the Pledge: https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/pledge-be-ethical-consumer
While it’s important that we each take ownership of our individual choices, action at the individual level is an incomplete answer. Being an individual ethical consumer is not the answer to the problem of unethical production. As Students for Sustainable Stanford point out, “Ethical consumers also need to realize that a change in the way businesses operate doesn’t only come from consumers’ spending habits. Through political advocacy and education, ethical consumers may have the ability to have stores be held accountable for the things they do to the environment.” It’s important to hold the individual and systemic in conjunction. The enormity of the problem doesn’t exonerate the individual, but the acts of the individual are not enough to completely alter the system.
Going on From Here
Clearly, this is a brief introduction to a vast web of interconnected issues regarding how things are made and how we participate in supply chain. At its surface, the discussion is about which t-shirt to buy. But at its core, these thoughts and dilemmas are about our relationships to each other and to nature. What we’re willing to buy directly implies what kind of treatment we’re willing to allow for our fellow human beings, and though the process can seem like it’s out of our hands, we possess both the individual and collective capacity and responsibility to enact change that will wipe out the injustices in the way items are made and dispensed.
You can take this introduction and go in many directions: into a reflection on privilege, on evaluating necessities, on cross-cultural connections, on advocacy, etc. Whichever thread you latch onto, I hope that you’ll be inspired and challenged to continue leaning in and incorporating thoughtful practice into your life.
I’ll leave you with these words from Dr. Nicki Lisa Cole: “when we consume, we place ourselves into social relationships with all the people who participate in producing, packaging, exporting and importing, marketing, and selling the goods we buy, and with all of those who participate in providing the services we purchase. Our consumer choices connect us in both good and bad ways to hundreds of millions of people around the world.”
- Fashion and Clothing
- App: Good on You: http://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/ethical-brand-list/?utm_medium=social&utm_source=pinterest&utm_campaign=tailwind_tribes&utm_content=tribes&utm_term=501547232_16090590_253669
- Apps: https://mashable.com/2015/04/24/ethical-fashion-tools/#UiXYSGwLFuqa
- List of ethical brands by type of clothing:
- Shopping 2nd hand? Look for these materials: