Ethical shopping – it’s all about reading the label

image from ethical.org.au

I made a pledge via 3things to choose vintage/pre-loved clothes over brand new ‘sweatshop’ cheap clothes. In hindsight it was an odd thing to choose, but I knew that I was going the easy route of shopping at super cheap fashion clothes stores without considering where these clothes came from, who made them, in what conditions and at what cost to the environment.

What I’ve since decided is I’m going to expand this pledge to something bigger – to shop ethically and not just clothes, but everything I consume. So before I can fully become an ethical shopper and fulfil my pledge, I first had to find out what it all meant.

What is ethical shopping (or being an ‘ethical consumer’)?

One of the biggest key words here is “considering” – and consideration is all about respect, concern and thoughtfulness.

  • Considering how the product will affect other people or animals
  • Considering whether the production of the product has been made using sustainable practices
  • Choosing products that are of good quality
  • Choosing products that are themselves sustainable and not harmful to the planet

Ethical shopping is deep rooted and there might be items that don’t or can’t tick every ethical box (eg. leather). According to the Ethical Consumer Guide though, there are four different forms or levels of ethical shopping to consider:

  1. Favouring ethical products (which they refer to as ‘positive buying’)
  2. Disfavouring or avoiding unethical products (which they refer to as ‘negative buying’)
  3. Examining businesses as a whole (which means looking at companies and all subsidiaries – a company or product might appear fine until you discover they’re owned by a much larger unethical organisation)
  4. Taking everything into account (in other words, a combination of all three)

Now the lazy person in all of us is might say “that sounds hard” – well it’s not as easy as remaining naive and buying things without thought, but it’s not hard. All it takes is a bit of foresight and some researching – but most of all an attitude change.

What to do

Step One: Read the label!! Find out where this product has come from, what it’s made from and who the company really is.

Step Two: Check your choices!! Don’t just pick a product because it’s what your Mum always used to buy and you don’t know what else exists – look around for the most ethical choice.

Step Three: Know what to look for!! Educate yourself about ingredients, production practices etc and really know what you should be looking for in a product.

What to look for

These are some key things to look for when choosing an ethical product and why:

  • Local products – less transportation as well as supporting local businesses
  • Fairtrade certified – which ensures non exploitive trade practices (wages and conditions of workers) and sustainable practices
  • Environmentally friendly – having less of an impact on the planet, such as organic (no chemicals or genetically modified ingredients), biodegradable (materials naturally break down in a relatively short amount of time), no harmful ingredients (such as palm oil, SLS) etc
  • Cruelty free – treating animals humanely

But, like I said earlier, it’s all about consideration. Not only should you consider the above items but you also have to consider whether the product you want to buy is the best option for what you need – for example if you were looking to buy disposable plastic cups for a picnic, you might instead consider buying good quality BPA free plastic cups that you keep, wash and reuse for years to come. Think about why you want the product and what you’re hoping to achieve. It shouldn’t always be about convenience.

Where do I start?

Favouring ethical products is the best place to start. The next time you do the food shopping before you reach for your favourite product, stop and look at all your choices.

Don’t overwhelm yourself, just take it one step at a time – start with your weekly food shopping and then look at every item as you need it such as new clothes, shampoo, soap, household cleaning products, car, furniture – you name it. It’s as simple as using Google to search for “Ethical shampoo” and seeing what you find.

When you feel comfortable with the basics then you can really start to delve deeper.

Why?

So you might be asking yourself why, aside from the obvious, should you be making ethical choices when you don’t know anyone else who does.

Firstly, you gotta start somewhere – once you do it, your best friend might do it, then their cousin might do it, then their mother might do it, and so on. Create a chain reaction and don’t be afraid to lead by example.

Secondly, by choosing ethical products you create a demand for them, which means they become more popular, more widely available and soon enough hopefully ‘the norm’. It worked with free range eggs – we created the demand and now the supermarkets have to stock them to meet the demand. This demand has now crept into restaurants who advertise the fact that they serve free range eggs. We win with better quality eggs and chickens win (more than before) because they now get treated more humanely.

Feel good shopping!

At the end of the day, it feels good to know that you can shop guilt free. So, the next time you need to buy something, by choosing the ethical option you will be able to consciously feel good about your decision (just don’t max out the credit card!!).

Just remember:

  • CONSIDERATION
  • CREATE DEMAND FOR ETHICAL PRODUCTS
  • LEAD BY EXAMPLE

A little action creates a chain reaction.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Mark Ehlers says:

    Great Article Kat. I gotta say I am a strong believer in Second Hand Clothing. Don’t forget that places like Gumtree and Ebay bring second hand shopping right to your computer, so it’s not all trudging around flea-markets and op shops. You can buy ethically online too 🙂

    1. Eco Empire says:

      Exactly Mark! I plan to write an article soon all about my ethical fashion adventures including online shopping, second hand shopping, and even upcycling current pieces in my wardrobe. Stay tuned!

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