We live in a capitalist society – or some attempt at it. On paper, capitalist markets strive for ‘perfect competition,’ where consumers have full transparency into the choices we make. This isn’t our reality, of course, but doing some research can get us a tiny bit closer.
When spending money, we can ask ourselves…
- Does this business enslave or otherwise exploit people?
- Does this business partner with other brands you have chosen not to support?
- Does this business hire fairly, pay living wages and provide benefits required to support a family?
- What kind of causes does this business stand for? What does their foundation do?
- What political issues or candidates does the business align with?
- What is the ratio of public good : negative externalities generated by this business?
- Take the concept of carbon neutrality but apply it to every kind of externality. If every violent video game maker invested enough in violence prevention work to balance out the damage they cause, for one crude example.
Self compassion is critical as this is an imperfect process. Businesses aren’t readily showing off their shady exploits. Private entities aren’t required to be as transparent as the public realm. And some days it really does feel like there are no good options. It’s not sustainable to know all of the above about each item we purchase, but there are opportunities to be a little intentional with our spending.
Sometimes a company goes to supreme court to make a stand you do or don’t agree with. Every so often some very compelling evidence will pop up about a businesses’ working conditions. Maybe you know someone who works for an organization and can give you first-hand information about their policies. Sometimes you see a brand’s name on a campaign finance summary. When those opportunities present themselves, we can incorporate them into our consumer choices.
When we spend our money based on more than just the price of an item, businesses can be held to a higher standard. Capitalism is supposed to work by everyone serving their own interests; it serves me to support the wellbeing of others, and I’m making small steps to demonstrate that as a consumer in the market.
There are so many more issues wrapped up in this one—wages so low they inhibit people from having autonomy to choose to pay more to make a stance; weak anti trust efforts failing to ensure proper competition so we actually have alternative producers to turn too… we can’t take it all on, but we make purchases every day—this is just one sustainable step.
Know any brands you feel confident supporting, or resources for navigating responsible consumerism? I’ve found a lot of sites for household items but food and beverages seems more difficult. Urban farming, anyone?