Consumerism is an important part of the economy, but if you wish to remain ethical while making purchases, it is vital to consider implementing a few key ideas. Remember: each time you shop, you’re voting with your dollars. In other words, you can truly make a difference in your local community and the entire world by keeping ethical practices in mind.
1. Check Labels
One of the biggest hurdles that an ethical consumer needs to overcome is learning how to carefully check labels. Sadly, many of the clothing items that are for sale right now in your favorite stores were made in a sweatshop overseas. You can avoid perpetuating this disturbing violation of human rights by ensuring that your clothes were made in countries that do not have sweatshops (such as the U.S. and Canada). There are also several companies, including Fair Industry, Cottonfield USA, and Red Dog Sportswear, that utilize ethical manufacturing practices. Alternatively, you can purchase clothing from a secondhand shop to help the environment.
2. Ensure You Are Buying the Real Thing
Another big issue that consumers face is learning how to tell if they are buying a counterfeit item. Although most people assume that these items will only be found on street corners, the reality is that there have been many stores caught selling illegal merchandise. High-end items are often counterfeited, so it is wise to look at consumer guides to learn how to spot a fake Rolex (for example). Keep in mind that illegal merchandise is typically made in sweatshop conditions. When you combine this knowledge with the inferior quality of these items, it is quite simply never a good idea to buy one.
3. Investigate Store Labor Disputes and Other Issues
Labor disputes can be a big indication of whether or not a business shares your interest in ethical consumerism. For example, Walmart has a long history of labor disputes and employee strikes, so it makes sense to carefully examine all of these issues to determine whether or not you feel comfortable shopping there. In one recent instance, several Walmart stores were closed without warning. Many employees alleged this was due to a disagreement over payroll. If you look closely enough, you will find similar news about a long list of stores. Analyzing this information can help you make ethical decisions.
4. Consider Shopping at a Co-Op
Co-ops are operated with their own built-in democracy, and this makes it much more likely for their employees to be treated fairly. Although most people think of a grocery store when they hear the phrase “co-op,” the reality is that there are co-ops in a wide array of businesses, including appliance manufacturing. One prime example is Mondragon Corporacion Co-operativa, which has become one of Spain’s largest industrial groups without cutting wages or instituting sweatshop conditions. When you shop from co-op sources, you also support fair wages.
5. Support Local Stores with Locally Made Goods
If part of your ethical concerns involve reducing your carbon footprint, then it is imperative to begin turning to local goods that are sold by local merchants. For example, consider what happens when you shop at a farmer’s market instead of a chain grocery store. Most of the fruit and vegetables that are sold at a grocery store were shipped in from all over the country and, in some cases, all over the world. On the other hand, a farmer’s market will sell similar items that were grown nearby. The reduction on carbon emissions from transportation alone makes the local goods a much more ethical choice.
6. Shop at Stores That Align with Your Ideological Principles
Are you aware that every store you shop at has ideological principles? Whether it’s taking a firm stance against equality or donating money to a specific politician, each business has an impact on their local community. With this in mind, ethical consumers carefully examine their local and chain store choices before spending any money. After all, failure to do so could help a business that is committed to promoting a cause you don’t believe in.
7. Walk Away From Items That Aren’t Ethically Made or Sourced
This is often one of the hardest things for people to do, especially when they are new to the idea of ethical consumerism. However, if you don’t take a stand for your beliefs by voting with your dollars, you are essentially throwing your support behind practices that violate your personal ethics. You may need to stop buying your favorite brand of jeans or pick a new favorite restaurant, but this will have a positive impact on the world.
8. Always Bring Your Own Bags
It is convenient to use the store’s plastic bags for all of your purchases, but this continual practice is damaging the environment. By simply buying your own cloth bags or reusing old plastic bags at the grocery store, you can reduce your carbon footprint by an average of six pounds per month. If every consumer took this action, we would experience a noticeable improvement in the environment and a massive reduction in waste. Unfortunately, it is estimated that only 5% of plastic grocery bags are reused right now; however, each of us has the ability to make a difference.
9. Reuse Things as Much as Possible
Another way to support the environment, while also making sweatshops less profitable, is to reuse things as much as possible. For example, you can wash out sauce jars and turn them into storage containers. This will keep you from buying storage containers and will prevent glass jars from ending up in a landfill.
10. Take a Stand Against Unethical Practices with a Boycott
Some people believe that boycotts don’t work, but all of the evidence proves that this thought process is incorrect. Darden Restaurants experienced the difference a boycott can make first hand when their profits plummeted in the second quarter of 2012 after the company indicated they did not support the Affordable Care Act and would cut hours as a result. After the impact of the consumer backlash became clear, Darden’s CEO decided to change the company policy and embrace Obamacare. This highlights the power of taking a stand for what you believe in by voting with your dollars.
With a little practice and some research, you’ll be able to begin shopping with ethics and the environment in mind. You can even extend these practices to special event shopping such as looking for Christmas gifts, which may inspire others to become an ethical consumer.
Featured photo credit: irinamozelova via morguefile.com