What does ethical shopping mean? Ethically made, ethically sourced, fair trade, sustainable, socially responsible, cruelty-free… Oh, so many lovely terms to describe how the product you have purchased has made its way into your life. Understanding the meaning of all the different terms and how they apply can seem overwhelming.
There can also be some overlap in the definitions and practices of these principles adding to the confusion. Is the sustainability of a product or how it is manufactured what makes it ethical? Does vegan or cruelty-free mean a company is ethical? Are fair trade and ethical the same thing? Let’s find out!
What is Ethical?
When researching the ethicality of a product/company, it can appear as if there are a million different interpretations of the word. This is where the concept of moral versus ethical can shed some light. Merriam-Webster.com explains it like this, “…morals usually connotes an element of subjective preference, while ethics tends to suggest aspects of universal fairness and the question of whether or not an action is responsible.”
In the simplest form (even though philosophy is never simple 🙂 ), morals are personal preferences while ethics are undeniable human truths. There are basic human truths and responsibilities that should be upheld and these are the roots of shopping ethically.
The Roots of Ethical Shopping
Throughout my research, I have found there to be six roots of ethical shopping: working conditions, wages, fair trade, environment, animal welfare, and social equality.
Ethical manufacturing and production include a safe and clean working environment for the employees as well as clean toilet facilities and access to water. There is no forced labor or child labor. There is no physical abuse or discipline towards workers and no sexual or verbal abuse or intimidation. Working hours are in compliance with national laws.
An ethical company ensures that the workers are compensated with fair, livable wages that at least meet the national minimum requirement. Wages are not withheld for disciplinary actions.
Fair Trade and ethical practices can appear to be one and the same at first glance. While Fair Trade practices include a lot of the ethical roots mentioned, they are different. Ethical is a broader scope encompassing all stages of a product from sourcing to packaging. Fair Trade focuses more on workers’ rights. You can read the globally recognized definition of Fair Trade here.
Ethical companies strive to reduce or eliminate negative environmental impact at every stage. Green Strategy says it best, “… continuous work to improve all stages of the product’s life cycle, from design, raw material production, manufacturing, transport, storage, marketing and final sale, to use, reuse, repair, remake and recycling of the product and its components.”
Ethical companies do not condone the cruel, inhumane treatment of animals. Their products are not tested on animals and can be certified cruelty-free or vegan. This is where it can get a little difficult depending on your moral beliefs. For example, a person who is vegan may not consider a company ethical for using animal components in their products. On the other hand, someone who is not vegan may consider that same company ethical for the responsible and humane way they sourced the animal component.
Ethical companies incorporate gender and cultural diversity and do not discriminate in the employment of workers based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or political opinions. Employers respect the right to freedom of association, an employee’s right to form a trade/labor union or committee, and collective bargaining, a negotiation between union and employer for worker’s rights.
Who Decides What is Ethical?
Now that we have a better understanding of what ethical shopping entails, who is deciding whether or not these companies actually have ethical practices? There are several different governing and certification bodies that have set standards and audits in place to ensure ethical practices are being upheld. Some of these organizations include World Fair Trade Organization, Fair Labor Association, Ethical Trading Initiative, and Leaping Bunny Program.
From the vegan versus non-vegan example mentioned earlier, we can see there can be some differing viewpoints of what is considered ethical. And there always will be! We are all human and have different morals, values, and things we are passionate about and that is okay!
Use your best judgment and your guiding morals to help you decide what shopping ethically means for you. Be kind and open-minded towards differing opinions and offer no judgment towards others or towards yourself. We are all doing the best we can 🙂 .
You have the power to decide what is ethical. When you choose to buy from an ethical company instead of a fast-fashion brand, you are telling fast-fashion companies that they do not get your sale. If everyone were to do this, the fast-fashion companies would have no choice but to follow suit to be profitable. We vote with our money and where we choose to spend it. Happy shopping!