The reality is that the choices you make when spending your money are the most powerful and meaningful messages you can send about the world you want to live in, and the most powerful drivers for what the world will look like in the future. You can sign as many petitions and attend as many protest rallies as you like, but nothing gets the message across as clearly and decisively as hitting producers in the proverbial back pocket by stopping buying their products!
It's a complex equation of course. Poverty is a very real issue in western societies and there are many people whose economic situation leaves them little room to even consider ethical issues in their purchasing decisions. Even the great majority of us who aren't living in poverty still have limited resources available that we have to manage carefully. So while we might be prepared to pay a bit more for a more ethically produced item we want to be certain that we really are getting what we pay for.
One of the greatest challenges we face as consumers is that we are so far removed and sheltered from the production processes for the majority of products that we buy. I'd like to think that most of us would easily say no to buying 'fast fashion' if as we stood in the shop choosing clothing items we could see the waste products from the factories polluting local rivers, and workers, including children, toiling in unsafe conditions. That if we went and bought our eggs direct from the local poultry farm and saw the conditions that caged hens were living in we would not only never buy anything other than a free range egg again, but we would also be staunch in ensuring that every product we buy that contains egg uses exclusively free range.
And if that was the end of the story maybe I'd be right, but of course we then have to factor in the claims such as 'they'd be worse off without these jobs' and 'this is a necessary step in that country's economic development' or 'factory farming is necessary in order to meet consumer demand'. How many people, even in the face of the obvious shameful harm being caused to people, animals and the environment would still be swayed by these stories? I suspect an alarming number, because we are usually pretty willing to accept any story that justifies a position that makes our lives easier and saves us money.
Even when you are committed to making ethical and sustainable choices, when you don't have easy direct access to understand how the products you are thinking of buying came into being, it can be difficult to know what the right choices are. It is very difficult to know where you can get reliable and accurate information from and who you can trust. So how can you get good information to inform your decisions?
It really is so important that we all do what we can to support products and production methods that are safe and ethical. The economic and political realities we live under mean that change has to be consumer driven. We each need to say 'Enough; I will not buy products that contain ingredients that may be harmful to me and my family or the environment and I will not buy products that were made by polluting the environment or exploiting animals or people'. And we all need to help each other by spreading the word about how to find better options, supporting those business who are doing the right thing not only with our own custom but by telling others about them.
I'd really love to hear others' tips for ensuring their spending is reflecting their values and ethics, so please go ahead and tell us in the comments below any tricks you use for seeing through advertising spin and 'greenwashing' or any other apps out there that you're using to help inform your purchasing decisions. Also feel free to give a shout out to some great ethical and sustainable brands that you recommend!