The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

Choosing conscience over convenience: The power of ethical consumerism in today’s world

Shavonne Chin

When you order something online or purchase a product at the mall, do you ever wonder where it’s really coming from?

Ethical consumerism is the overarching term used to describe companies that provide products that appeal to people’s best selves, such as fair trade coffee or a purchase that includes a charity donation, according to Harvard Business Review.

The controversy surrounding this topic is simple: most people don’t care. When purchasing items, consumers look for low prices, fast shipping and familiar brands; they don’t look at whether that company uses child labor or if they donate to the less fortunate.

The reality of the issue is that although individuals don’t care, they should. We have enough issues in this world between crumbling political climates, environmental and sustainability issues and poverty; problems that can’t be fixed overnight, let alone over decades of time. Switching to ethically made products is a simple change that doesn’t require significant time or effort, just conscious decision making.

Those who want to buy ethically can start by searching for humanely-sourced animal products, buying produce from local farmers markets or thrifting as opposed to purchasing fast-fashion. This extends beyond commodities, and you can even use ethical consumption when deciding where to put your finances.

Many of the largest banks are major investors in the fossil fuel industry, and you may find several of the investments in your portfolio are in companies that participate in unethical practices.

Choosing to invest in companies that make positive change is called impact investing, or socially responsible investing, and it’s the balance between managing investments to get the greatest return with companies based on their environmental and social impacts, per Business Insider.

Unfortunately, as great as ethical consumerism sounds, it comes at a cost — or moreso, a tradeoff.

Buying ethically sourced products isn’t cheap. Not everyone has the money to spend twice as much on eggs that are free range compared to the affordable ones that come from chickens in cages. That goes for all products, whether it be food, general goods or clothing.

Fast-fashion is part of a whole other conversation, but the biggest culprit perpetuating wasteful consumerism is the global online clothing store Shein. The company offers a variety of cute and incredibly affordable clothing and accessory options, and in the past year has significantly cut down on shipping times and prices, making it the ideal supplier to a huge demographic of consumers.

However, the company has been under fire in recent years for accusations of forced labor practices and mistreatment of Uyghurs, a marginalized group in China. The company allegedly falsified reports of underpaid labor of its supplier factories and has consistently blurred lines and refused to disclose any information that would confirm the allegations, according to CNBC.

Even the heavy allegations of child labor, forced labor practices and sweatshops are not enough to deter loyal consumers who gravitate towards the variety, accessibility and convenience that the company offers. That is the tradeoff, by choosing to ethically consume you give up the convenience of same-day shipping and cheaply-made crop tops for less than $5.

That being said, there are some companies we should be supporting because they practice ethical consumerism in many aspects of their businesses.

Patagonia is a well-known outdoor clothing and gear company and it’s committed to environmental and social responsibility. It donates a percentage of profits to environmental causes, promotes fair labor practices and encourages customers to repair and reuse their products.

Ben & Jerry’s also focuses on social and environmental initiatives. It supports fair trade ingredients, uses sustainable packaging and advocates for various global causes. Starbucks has made significant efforts to source ethically grown and traded coffee, starting programs like Coffee and Farmer Equity Practices, which promote sustainable farming and support coffee-producing communities.

The online marketplace Etsy promotes handmade vintage products, and many of its sellers focus on sustainable and ethical practices. There’s countless examples of companies that are making the changes we want to see, and it’s not that difficult. Consumers should continue to support companies that care about more than money.

I understand that a majority of people will read this article and not change their consumption habits. The fact of the matter is that there are a lot of things out of our control in this world and this is something that we have the power to change.

The dark side of ethical consumerism is that because many people don’t participate in it, companies have the impression that they shouldn’t actively pursue more ethical business practices.

It’s a continuous cycle that starts and ends with consumers and their purchasing behavior. If people make the choice to only buy ethically-sourced products, that would become the standard and we would have a market where success is based on morals and social responsibility instead of who can source the cheapest labor to undercut other company’s prices without getting caught.

As consumers, we continue to participate in a system where our ability to make ethical choices is based more on the money we have in the bank than on our character.

So how do you make an impact? There’s a few different ways to get involved in ethical consumption. These include buying ethical products, understanding less is more when shopping, trying to reuse before you recycle, shopping at thrift stores and flea markets (and giving your old items back as well) and advocating for ethical consumerism in your community.

I’m not suggesting you spend twice as much on groceries per month. As a college student, I especially understand how trying to ethically consume can be incredibly pricey. However, small changes can make a big difference.

In a world filled with complex challenges, ethical consumerism offers a tangible way to make a positive impact. It may come at a cost, but the tradeoff is a step towards a more responsible and sustainable future.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributors
A.J. Newth
A.J. Newth, Opinion Editor

Comments (0)

All The Quinnipiac Chronicle Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *