As consumers become increasingly aware of the ethical footprint of their purchases, the concept of ethical consumerism, or ‘buying ethical’, has rapidly found its feet. Ethical shopping, put simply, is the act of thinking about the consequence of your purchase for you and for the world around you. While with many people this behaviour starts with food – buying organic and/or free range produce, or trying to minimise the miles the food travels from producer to table – many people have taken things further and make equivalent choices for other purchases, whether that be a hybrid vehicle, a bank account, home furnishings or, of course, their ethically produced clothes.
It can be quite daunting to change your buying habits to completely ethical fashion, especially if you’ve been brought to that choice by watching a film like The True Cost. View the trailer below.
But there are many ways to bring your purchases in line with your principles, and the easiest way to start is just one purchase at a time. It can mean buying items that have been produced with minimal negative effects on society or the environment; investing in vintage items that last season to season; downsizing your wardrobe to key pieces bought from sustainable sources; buying garments secondhand from charity shops and eBay, so lessening the primary demand for fast fashion and saving clothes from the recycling mountain; and of course, buying from ethical companies!
Shopping ethically can be done in a number of different ways, depending on your size, access to shops, and what you can afford. While the methods are varied, every ethical shopping decision has an impact on the fast fashion industry. And the higher the demand for ethically produced clothing, the greater the impact that we can make.
Some of the most significant impacts include:
1. Helping small businesses
One of the most overlooked benefits of ethical shopping is the positive effect on the small businesses that produce the products. As part of Fair Trade networks, small businesses are now entitled to consistent fair prices, regardless of changes in the market. Growing interest in ethical products is also helping small businesses to protect themselves from the imposition of contracts from influential businesses. Instead of relying on large companies to provide work, small businesses are now becoming part of Fair Trade networks that ensure they have access to workers’ rights.
2. Reducing the wealth divide
According to UN figures, the richest 10 per cent of its 34 member states earn 9.6 times the income of the poorest 10 per cent. This disparity is even clearer when it comes to the world’s total amount of private consumption expenditure, with the poorest 20 per cent of countries only accounting for 1.3 per cent, while the richest 20 per cent accounts for 86 per cent. By encouraging increased rights for farmers and local producers, ethical shopping can help to bridge the gap in wealth and ensure richer business owners are providing a fair wage and working conditions for their workers.
3. Increasing power of local communities
Thanks to the growing success of Fair Trade networks, local groups of producers and farmers are now benefiting from a number of policies put in place to help them regain control of their communities. The Fair Trade ‘premium’ is one of the most influential policies, providing communities with an additional amount of money on top of the price of their products, which can be invested in local projects and infrastructure to improve local living standards. This may include the building of schools and medical facilities, as well as an increase in sanitation standards to help eliminate health problems.
4. Reducing consumption and damage of natural resources
Under fair trade and ethical policies, companies are required to ensure they minimise the use of potentially hazardous chemicals and damaging production methods, which have been known to cause irreversible damage to the environment. One of the most well-documented problems is extensive deforestation for the production of furniture and other products, which scientists suggest is having a lasting effect on our planet. In order to tackle this issue, ethical companies are now only sourcing their materials from producers who follow strict codes of ethics to help forests recover and remain healthy in the future.
5. Increasing consumer power
In times gone by, consumers had little or no say in the products available or how they were made. Instead, new items would be created based on boardroom decisions and often-inaccurate consumer data. Fortunately, the rise of technology and development of social marketing has given rise to increased awareness of companies’ behaviour, and the general public now has the chance to dictate the future of production across many industries. This is where buying ethical comes in; as customers, we now have the chance to communicate more directly with companies about what business practices are acceptable in bringing us our favourite products, which in turn promotes continued advances in ethical business conduct and developments in the manufacturing of some of the most popular consumer items.
6. Encouraging environmentally-friendly innovation
By embracing ethical shopping, consumers can pave the way for an environmentally friendly approach to production and manufacturing in the future. Rather than setting up unethical practices that may require modification, new businesses are more likely to innovate to create sustainable products with positive production processes right from the start, in order to meet the demands of increasingly ethical consumers. This, in turn, will encourage further emphasis on true corporate social responsibility in the future, as opposed to the current levels of lip service and obfuscation, and prompt a new socially and environmentally aware era for global consumerism.