What makes an ethical shopper? This might seem an odd question, and you may even wonder what ethics have to do with our shopping. In fact, when we shop it is very easy to see what the shops want us to see, and fool ourselves into being completely blind to the manufacture and distribution of the products, forgetting that real people somewhere have made these products to help feed their families, and that the environment and animals will likely have been affected in some way.
Shopping in an ethical way means choosing shops or products which have been sourced, manufactured and distributed in ways which are fair to those people living in third world countries, kind to animals that may have been involved or would have otherwise been involved, and kind on the environment which is certainly suffering as a direct result of the increase in our consumer society.
First of all, when you go shopping you may notice stickers and labels with 'Fair Trade' on them. These tell you that the manufacture of these items took place in a third world country, but making absolutely sure that the people involved were treated fairly, worked reasonable hours, and were paid a fair wage. All too often people who are struggling to keep their family sheltered and fed are mistreated and forced into working unreasonably long hours for an absurdly low wage. This means that suppliers and retailers can keep the cost down, but is it really fair for us to worry about saving twenty pence here and there when the extra few pence to us could make the difference between a family in the third world being miserable or being happy and able to look to the future with hope?
Another way to shop in an ethical way is to find food which has been labelled as 'organic'. This means that the food ingredients have been grown without the use of chemicals, such as pesticides. These chemicals are widely used in the food industry, but can be harmful to the workers who work on the crops, and it can also be harmful to wildlife in the area, and very much to the environment as a whole. Chemicals soak into the ground, and drain into rivers and streams. The effects can be both unknown, and disastrous. Growing crops without these chemicals is more expensive, and takes a little longer, but the results are more nutritious, and grown without detriment to the workers or the environment.
Another factor worth considering is buying cosmetic items which have not been tested on animals. More and more manufacturers are aware that a growing number of consumers do not agree with the idea of testing these chemicals on animals, when this can often mean causing physical discomfort, pain, and even resulting in blindness or death. Many bottles and jars now have clear labels stating that they have not been tested on animals, although you have to be a little careful here if you want to be completely ethical. The absence of a label may well be an unspoken confession to using animals, and even if the label says that it hasn't been tested on animals, what about the individual chemical ingredients? Some manufacturers go as far as stating that neither the product nor its ingredients have been tested on animals. This is the clearest message.
A recent argument about ethics is to do with genetically modified foods. This is a difficult one, because in one sense, no animal, plant, person or aspect of the environment has been directly harmed in any way, and in fact some foods have been genetically modified to be able to grow stronger and healthier in harsher conditions, allowing third world countries to reap far more. Is this unethical? At present, the jury is still out on this, and you will have to judge for yourself.