Ethical Consumerism: making a difference from home

Choosing fairtrade products can really make a difference. Picture by jakeliefer.

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Not everyone is in a position to volunteer in a developing country, but there are other ways of taking action and exercising global citizenship that don’t involve leaving your home country, such as donating money to a development charity or volunteering in the UK. That’s because the consumer choices you make can have a global impact, and it’s important to know how. Here is DiA writer Richard Metcalf’s list of five things that you could consider doing to become a more ethical consumer…    

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Buy fairly traded goods

The Fairtrade mark on consumer goods is a sign that producers in developing countries have been paid a fair price for the raw materials. Fairtrade products must also meet international standards by, for example, not using child labour, allowing workers to negotiate fair wages collectively and by ensuring that the work is not hazardous to their health.

The good news is, it’s getting easier to buy Fairtrade all the time. For instance, 2012 is set to be the year when Fairtrade sugar accounts for more than 50% of all sugar retailed in the UK.

Choose ecological products

Climate change and other global environmental issues have a huge effect on the poorest countries, as they often already live in harsh climates and do not have the resources to cope. In this context, you should consider the environmental impact of things like your electrical appliances, washing powder and travel providers.

Eat less meat

On the subject of the environment, one change you can make to help prevent climate change and increase the world’s capacity for food production is to base more of your diet on plants rather than animals. That’s because rearing animals is much more land and energy intensive than growing crops, and produces more greenhouse gases than cars.

You don’t need to become completely vegetarian to make a difference, as the Part-Time Carnivore website explains. Only eating meat every other day, or only on Sundays, lowers your CO2 emissions and the amount of land required to grow your food.

You can avoid corporations which engage in child labour in developing countries. Picture by solarshakti

Boycott unethical companies

As well as choosing products that support the world’s poorest, some consumers choose to boycott companies that they believe are exploiting people in developing countries, such as through sweat shops and child labour. One of the longest-running and most famous boycotts is against Nestlé, because of its marketing of baby formula. Such boycotts are often controversial, however, so it is definitely worth checking the facts if you are thinking about taking this kind of action.

Change to an ethical bank account

The financial industry played a huge part in creating the current global economic crisis, and questions are increasingly being raised about how much bankers are paid and the risks they take with other people’s money.

What often isn’t mentioned is whether banks make investment decisions based on ethical considerations. For instance, do you know if your bank invests in arms companies or projects involving deforestation or pollution? Such projects can have a devasating impact on development. If you want to find out more, ethicalconsumer.com has a guide to responsibly choosing a bank account.

You are not alone!

You might think that one person is not going to make much difference, but if many people change their habits together, the impact is huge. And a recent Ethical Consumerism Report from the Co-operative Bank shows that, despite the recession, the ethical market grew 18% from 2007 to 2009, so you’d be in good company! And if you spread the word too, maybe this trend will continue.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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