Do you ever feel confused by the proliferation of terms like ethical, sustainable fashion, fair trade, human trafficking and modern slavery? Is there a difference? What is the difference? What does the recently passed Australian law known as the Modern Slavery Act mean for me? How do I, as one little individual, really have a role to play in all this?
If you feel a little bit confused, maybe even overwhelmed – you’re not alone! Even as someone who lives in the world of ethical fashion, there are still questions I have and differentiations I want to make.
So I spent a week in Sydney investigating what some of Australia’s key players in the area of ethical consumerism and stamping out modern slavery and trafficking had to say about these ideas. I learned a great deal and came away with more to understand – but starting somewhere is better than not starting at all! I would love you to join me on this journey, so I’m going to share some of the key concepts and opportunities you have to respond.
One thing in my mind which is settled is:
Let’s start with the umbrella under which all these terms sit – ethical – and put it into the context of consumerism.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines ethical as relating to beliefs about what is morally right and wrong. Ethical consumerism begins with you – the consumer – understanding your own beliefs of what is right and wrong. These beliefs might be different to another consumer’s, and certainly vary between the companies you interact with. A company that describes its product or service as ‘ethical’ is simply saying it believes that what it is doing is morally right.
Ahh, so that seems easy, right? You probably already have a fair idea of what you believe is right and wrong. Great, we’ve started – but it can, and does, get a little more complicated. You see, ethics is a whole area of deciding how to respond when two seemingly morally right choices come into conflict. In this case, making a decision means one has to have more value or weight than the next. I call it making a priority list of values.
Let’s take the example of a product in which a percentage of the profits are donated to some type of aid or charity to help fund programs that change lives for the poor or marginalised. Fantastic! Making profit donations is certainly a step in the right direction. But my personal ethical priorities mean that I’m on the lookout for that same product that also has its contents sourced from farmers who are getting a liveable wage.
That example just considers the human factor in our consumerism, but there are also other ethical factors. If we take that same product, which donates funds to charity or has fair trade certification, yet the product itself has resulted in some environmental damage or is made of plastic, I would also consider an alternative if it’s available. My mind thinks quickly of having a fair trade coffee in my own reusable cup, or taking five minutes of downtime in the cafe to use their cups rather than require a takeaway cup… an easy, ethical choice with just a little forethought. It soon becomes a habit to stash a reusable cup in your bag or in the office!
Now it’s your turn. What is important to you? People, the planet, animals, where something is sourced? In what order would you prioritise them? There will be other things that influence your consumer decisions, like the cost, maybe the flavour, the ease of access etc. Take a moment to unpack what it means for you to act morally – and you’ll be ready for our next chat when we will explore this topic more!