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Ethical shopping - why it's exactly what you thought it was

Posted by Nicole Neaber on

Whether we like to admit it or not, the vast majority of us love shopping. And I mean, loooooove shopping!

According to Statista, global retail sales for 2018 will reach close to 25 trillion US dollars. You read that right - that's $25,000,000,000,000.

That's a stack of dollar bills large enough to travel to the moon and back three times, or, if you're a spender rather than a saver (like the majority of us shopaholics), that's enough to buy an iPhone X, a week at Disneyland, and a slap up meal at McDonalds every day of the year* for each and every man, woman and child on the surface of the planet. (*ColieCo does not endorse this as a lifestyle model...)

Or, if you like, it's a lot of money. And spending 25 trillion dollars in only twelve months is hard work. Collectively, we're busy making billions of purchases every single day, filling enough shopping carts to stretch end-to-end around the equator many, many times.

 

Busy shopping centre

 

Now, what to buy...

We are inspired to make these vast numbers of purchases by various influencing factors - cultural, social, psychological and personal. We want to look like we fit in, we want to impress our peers, we think a product has an inherent value that will bring us a fleeting or even a lasting happiness... and, of course, we get hungry.

And consciously or subconsciously, we weigh these various factors up against each other when we are deciding how to spend our disposable income.

A group of these factors might be loosely-termed 'ethical considerations'; and a focus on ethical considerations when making retail purchases has come to be known as 'ethical shopping'.

But what exactly is 'ethical shopping'?

A quick search around the web and across social media will dig up countless and often conflicting perspectives on exactly what might constitute an ethical purchase: some will argue that fair trade principles are the bedrock of ethical shopping; others that the focus should be on organic produce and materials, the protection of animals, the health and safety of workers across the supply chain, or the wider ecological impact of the production of a good.

So how do we come to a cleaner, clearer definition?

Defining 'ethical shopping'

Let's try to be objective about this and start with the term 'ethics'.

Merriam-Webster defines ethics as:

A set of moral principles: a theory or system of moral value.

So an ethical act (and shopping is, of course, an act), is an act made in relation to a set of moral principles.

 

Ethics word cloud

 

But what set of moral principles? Principles always have and are always going to differ from society to society, from culture to culture, and between individuals. So maybe it'd be better to look from a different angle.

Retail purchases tend to be made by individuals, so could we define 'ethical shopping' as an act that focuses specifically in its decision-making process on an individual's moral principles or values?

This seems like a sensible approach to me. If we can't all come to an agreement on a universal ethical code (and good luck even agreeing the details of that with your closest neighbour or milkman, never mind the other seven billion people on the planet), how can we hope to all agree on exactly what should constitute 'ethical shopping'?

If we're happy with this definition, then we have decided we can agree to disagree: the principles behind the contents of your ethical shopping cart and the principles behind the contents of mine can be quite different, yet they can both represent 'ethical shopping'.

So where to start for the budding ethical consumer?

In line with various social trends in the West and elsewhere, there is a growing interest in and movement towards ethical consumer spending which is having a material impact not just on the behaviour of enterprises - from the very smallest startups to the largest multinationals - but on their very core values. (This impact is something I'll cover in a later blog post.)

Wonderfully, more and more people are spending a little more time thinking about where the goods they are purchasing have come from, the materials from which they have been made, the processes that have been used to produce them, the conditions of the workers involved in their creation, and the impact of the end-to-end process on the environment.

 

Organic crops

 

And if you are one of the many developing more of an interest in ethical consumerism, at about this point, you might be thinking, "All of the above is very well and good, but it doesn't help me understand whether any particular purchase I might make would represent an 'ethical' buy. And it doesn't help me decide how to shop and where to shop if I want to consider the wider impact of my spending!"

Well, the first part I can't help you with, because I don't know what values you hold and what principles in human behaviour concern you most. In short, I don't know those things that weigh on your conscience. Your ethical shopping cart will look different to my ethical shopping cart.

The second part is a little easier (although there can be no straightforward, universal answer).

Assuming you have a clear enough idea about those values most important to you, I'd encourage you to go out and look for individuals, lobby groups, social media forums, businesses and other organisations that share those same core values.

There are lots of other people - more and more other people - out there discussing all aspects of ethical consumerism. Spend time reading, researching, listening and sharing your thoughts and ideas with others.

 

Researching ethical consumerism

 

And once you've found those people and groups who really strike a chord with you, you'll not only discover and find yourself introduced to more businesses you are happy to vote for (because, of course, every dollar is a vote), but you'll find there's a wealth of information available that can help you learn more about business ethics in everything from investment to manufacturing, and employment to materials sourcing.

ColieCo's core values and ethical product attributes

ColieCo's core values are centered on respect for the environment, respect for people and respect for quality. You can learn more about them here.

We also recognise that we have a broad and diverse customer base interested not only in the fun, seductive-meets-feminine nature of our designs (thanks GLAMOUR online 😊), but also in specific ethical standards that we hold ourselves to: some are excited about shopping for products made primarily from organic materials, whilst others are keen to know that the components used to construct their lingerie have been sourced from local, independent small businesses.

So in the interests of transparency and to make it easier for ColieCo customers to understand whether particular products align with their own particular values, we are proud to be introducing ColieCo's own ethical product attribute badges.

 

ColieCo's ethical product attributes

 

Each badge represents a specific attribute we can 100% commit to delivering against for each and every product we assign it to, and you'll find more than one badge against each product you discover on the ColieCo website.

You can find out what each badge represents here, and in a series of coming blog posts, I'll be writing about exactly what each attribute really means to us, looking at the attribute in real-world context, and explaining why it is important to us.

In the meantime, as always, connect with us via social media to let us know your thoughts and to keep the discussion going!

Until next time... happy shopping!

Nicole x