Shopping Ethically: Why should we do it?

‘To achieve sustainable development and a higher quality of life for all people, states should reduce and eliminate unsustainable patterns of production and consumption…’

Principle 8, The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, 1992.

Globalisation affects us all, whether we realise it or not. There is nothing wrong with trading goods and services, however when these practices lead to the reduction of power of local communities, increases the divide between rich and poor, results in the over-consumption of natural resources and biodiversity loss, and significantly reduces the basic protection of animals, then we are doing something wrong and unethical.

‘Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want’ – Anna Lappe

Millions of people around the world work in a range of areas to provide food and many other products for sale in industrialised countries. In many cases, these workers toil in hazardous conditions, often for very little pay, they may also be discriminated against and exploited.

Over the last ten or twenty years, more and more people around the world, primarily in industrialised countries, have become better informed and more aware of the origins of the goods they purchase on a day-to-day basis, the buying policies and practices of the shops they visit and the policies and principles of the services they buy.

As consumers we have the power to influence the conduct and actions of companies by how we spend our money and the choices we make.  There are a number of simple ways in which we can shop more ethically:

  • Positive buying is favouring ethical products, be they fair trade, organic or cruelty free. This option is arguably the most important since it directly supports progressive companies.


  • Negative purchasing means avoiding products you disapprove of, such as battery eggs or polluting cars.


  • Company-based purchasing involves targeting a business as a whole, for example boycotting a certain brand because of company practices in third world countries, etc.


  • The fully screened approach is a combination of all three and means looking at all the companies and products together and evaluating which brand is the most ethical.


Buying ethically can have a number of benefits to society. For one it encourages innovative products and companies which focus on their corporate social responsibility.  It empowers us as consumers, giving us a say in how the products we buy are made and how companies should run their business.  It can and has made a difference in the past.

Every purchase makes an impact, therefore your choice makes a difference.  Once we start thinking about ethical shopping we begin to see the connections between what we buy and the impact it has on society and the environment.  Remember that when we buy sustainable products and services we also increase the demand for them.  Shockingly enough, approximately 95% of the chocolate sold today is not certified to be free from the use of forced, child or trafficked labour.

We should strive for a society where the environment is respected, where human rights are properly protected and animals are no longer cruelly abused; where our consumption of products and services does not result in environmental degradation or exploitation elsewhere in the World.


Shop Ethical

Fairtrade Foundation

Ethical Consumer

World Vision Action

Ethical Consumerism: A Guide for Trade Unions