Over the last three months, I’ve given this post half-a-dozen attempts before ditching it every time. Not because I don’t think ethical shopping isn’t a good idea. I do, obviously, else wouldn’t keep coming back to it.
What makes me back off is that I feel overwhelmed. By what I don’t know but feel I should. By the plethora of information on the topic, so much to sort through: opinions on what matters and what doesn’t, how to make a difference (or not), expressed with varying degrees of fervor. All of which barely touches the tangle of political and economic considerations far beyond my pay grade. The issue is just so big and so nuanced — and like so many justice issues — tainted by my own convictions of woulda/shoulda/coulda.
I’m so tempted to give up and say I’m not the one to blog about this when I really know so little about it, and — truthfully — practice it very poorly. I’m also stymied by fear, paralyzed by the notion that whatever choice I make may in the end do more harm than good.
But then, I read this from Maya Angelou: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” This helps my fear to unclench a bit. This says to me that doing something is almost always better than doing nothing.
I’m glad for that, because there’s a part of me that won’t let this topic drop. Because despite my confusion, I believe ethical shopping matters, and I want to engage in it far more than I do. Common sense tells that every day I hold the power to help or hurt someone with what I buy and whom I buy it from. From clothing to shoes, tomatoes and phones, wine and coffee. From what I need to what I want. Every day.
While acknowledging that awareness is not the same thing as action, it is nonetheless the place where change necessarily begins. So, in the spirit of one small step, here is mine: this post, my first tentative foray into this field.
To start (though this is now far from where I actually did start), I suppose we should define ethical shopping. It is this:
Ethical shopping (which is also called ethical consumption, ethical consumerism, ethical purchasing, moral purchasing, ethical sourcing, or green consumerism) means voting with our dollars. It’s a kind of consumer activism. What lies behind it is the intention of promoting healthy labor, fair wages, and environmental standards in the supply chain.
The good news is that awareness of ethical shopping is growing. When we hear on the news that hundreds were killed in the collapse of a Bangladesh clothing factory, where workers labored in unsafe conditions so that we might wear more inexpensive clothing — we know it’s an issue. More of us are talking about ethical production standards. More of us want to know where our products come from, who is making them — and what their stories are. More journalists are journaling and bloggers are blogging. Check out this thoughtful post, for example, by Addie Zierman, who contemplates–among other things — why we should pay more for our jeans. Or either of these two books —Where Am I Eating? and Where Am I Wearing? — by Kelsey Timmerman, a journalist who traipses the world to trace the origins of our food and clothes.
We are also seeing more product buying guides to aid us in our decision-making. These are sites or apps that allow consumers to search for favorite brands and determine their ethical positions and supply chain management. They provide a tool for thoughtful shoppers who want to increase the impact of their dollar-voting.
There are also more and more companies whose very raison d’être is to make a world of difference. Their products may cost consumers more, but every purchase does someone somewhere some tangible good.
Okay, obviously there’s so more out there. I’ve done nothing but barely scratch the surface, and I haven’t even touched on Fair Trade. I’ll save that for another post. Meanwhile, I’d like to hear from you. Has ignorance ever made you afraid to jump into something you sense you should? And more to the point, is there a shopping habit you’ve changed — or a brand or product you’ve “buycotted” — to help make a world of difference?