The relationship between consumption and production is what keeps the modern world moving. It is the basis of capitalism. This emphasis on consumption has led many to discuss “economical consumption” and “wise consumption.” Recently, the idea of “ethical consumption” or “ethical consumerism” has been put forward. The concept of ethical consumerism asks consumers to put others and the environment ahead of themselves. This trend has drawn the attention of consumers and businesses alike. Everyone needs to become more concerned with this. There are many ways that we can promote ethical consumerism that will guide producers and consumers alike to think more clearly about nature and the future.
Tyranny of large coffeehouses
Before exploring the basis of ethical consumerism we should know more about what constitutes unethical consumerism. Large coffee houses have been identified as model unethical enterprises largely because they exploit coffee producers with their purchasing power. Specifically, Starbucks, the most recognizable coffeehouse brand, has been accused of having ethical issues. The price of a regular cup of Starbucks coffee is about 5,000 won, but the cost to produce the coffee beans is only 123 won per a cup. Starbucks claims that they use fair trade coffee, but the actual quantity of fair trade coffee used by Starbucks worldwide was only 7.9% in 2010 according to the coffee industry.
Tyranny of hypermarkets
Large chain department stores or “hypermarkets” often abuse their size and purchasing power. They demand delivery of goods from suppliers at cheap rates. This gives them a competitive advantage because the reduced overhead from cheaper shipping rates allows them to offer lower prices. Hypermarkets also force suppliers to be responsible for marketing their own products on the sales floor of the market. Many sample stations you see at these hypermarkets are manned by employees of the supplier and not of the store. Small suppliers have not choice but to give in to the demands of the hypermarkets because they represent such a large percentage of their market share.
Hypermarkets also mislead consumers with sales gimmicks. Hypermarkets often bundle items together as a promotional tool. By offering 1+1 promotions or attaching small products to larger ones, it makes the merchandise seem less expensive, but the items are sold at more expensive prices through the skillful reduction in the number and capacity of the items.
The trading area within a 6-7 km radius of hypermarkets are negatively impacted after they enter. Recently, hypermarkets have diversified recklessly, which has caused a great deal of damage to smaller local merchants. For example, some hypermarkets sell chicken or pizza and they install SSMs (Super Supermarkets), and small merchants located around these super stores are often unable to compete with their prices.
Animals are sacrificed for fur coats
About 50 million animals are killed for fur coats annually. According to the IDA (In Defense of Animals), a rabbit fur coat requires 30 rabbits, a mink coat 55 minks, a raccoon coat 27 raccoons, and a chinchilla coat 100 chinchillas. “The Inconvenient Truth of Fur” was televised by “SBS TV Animal farm” earlier this year. The program came as a big shock to many viewers. The largest producer of fur products in China breeds raccoons, minks, and rabbits in small cages that do not allow the animals any freedom of movement. The animals are fed awful food, and there are no hygienic measures taken for the animals. Rabbits are killed with stun guns, and their screams can be heard endlessly in the slaughterhouse. Raccoons and minks are skinned after being rendered insensible by smashing their heads into the ground. This is done because if the animals are skinned after they are killed, the furs have less value. Furs made this way are very popular. Specifically, 40% of the rabbit fur produced in China is exported to Korea. Animal protection groups maintain that if people wouldn’t buy fur, there would be no producers of fur.
Fair trade literally means trade that is made based on maintaining equal status between the countries involved. Fair trade policies deal mainly with agricultural products that are exported to developed countries from developing countries. Buying eco-friendly products that are made by third world producers at a fair price through direct transactions helps to overcome poverty and unequal distribution of wealth. The most important objective of fair trade is to prevent labor exploitation, which in many ways is little better than modern-day slavery.
The profits taken by coffee growing countries account for just 0.5% of the total profits made by the coffee industry. The average annual profit of an Ethiopian coffee grower is only 60 dollars. If you buy a cup of Starbucks coffee for 5,000 won, only 25 won goes to the coffee grower. There is also the issue of labor exploitation that is caused by this system. For example, one third of the workers on Kenyan coffee plantations are children under the age of 15.
According to a UN report, thousands of children between the ages of 9 and 12 are being forced to work on cocoa farms. They are trafficked from West Africa and they work for little to no pay on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast.
70% of handmade soccer balls in the world are made by 15 thousand children in Pakistan. Most of these handmade soccer balls are sold for about 150,000 won. These children get only 150 won for each ball. If the children work all day, they can make two balls. In the process of making the balls, many children lose their eyesight because of exposure to toxic substances.
It is easy for people to think that there is nothing they can do because we are just individuals. However, there are many things we can do individually to promote ethical consumerism. First, we can frequent coffee shops that only use fair trade coffee beans. In Deagu, some coffee shops sell fair trade coffee such as Coffee Myungga and Peace Trade. In addition to coffee, we can buy items that are stamped with the fair trade mark. There are also internet shopping malls that sell fair trade items such as Fair Trade Korea G:ru. Fair trade products are not yet common in Korea especially in Daegu. Therefore, it is hard to find these products. However, if we look for and consume fair trade products actively, this market will become invigorated.
Fair travel involves travel exchanges with residents of underdeveloped countries. Fair travel provides aid to the native people and offers travel experiences that respect the environment and the culture. Almost all popular tourist attractions are made through reclamation and modification of nature and the building of huge resorts and hotels. Residents who farm or breed livestock lose their way of life and are often forced to work in the tourist industry. Unfortunately, most of the money generated by the tourism industry in these countries goes to foreign investors. Most of the native workers at these resorts and hotels are paid modest wages and do not benefit proportionally. Although they are provided with steady work, they must also deal with rising prices where they live due to inflation that generally follows “touristy” areas.
The increase in the number of tourists also causes shortages of water, increased pollution of the environment and property damage. Local villages also become commercialized because of the development of “tourist attractions.” Participating in fair travel can prevent this from happening. First, we must find a specialized travel agency that deals with fair travel, such as the social enterprises, Traveler’s Map and Good Travel. They employ native guides at appropriate wages, and they encourage the use of personal items rather than disposable products. They also plan for opportunities to experience traditional culture through home stays, and provide cultural heritage trial programs. In addition to going through travel agencies, we can participate in fair travel in groups or individually. These are some basic rules of fair travel.
1. Be considerate of nature
- Use fewer disposable products, and do not waste water
2. Respect native cultures
- Respect their lifestyle and culture, and be polite to them
- Consider the country’s dress, and learn to speak simple phrases in the native language
- Enjoy their songs and dances with them
3. Respect human rights
- Decline prostitution, and use accommodations and facilities that offer good working conditions
4. Assist the area
- Make use of accommodations, restaurants, guides, and transportation facilities that are operated by natives
5. Observe ethical consumerism
- Do not shop excessively, buy fair trade products, and do not cut barter excessively
The Beautiful Store
The Beautiful Store is operated through donations. This store sells used items that are donated by citizens. It contributes to social and environmental change. Consumers buy used items, so the amount of garbage decreases and it is helpful to the environment. The profits generated by the Beautiful Store are used for underprivileged people and public activities, so it is helpful to society. There are four Beautiful Stores in Daegu, located in Wolseong, Chilgok, Suseong, and Namsan.
Donated items are sold in the store after they are repaired and priced. In addition to donated items, they also sell fair trade items and products that promote public welfare. For example, they sell “Beautiful Coffee” which is a fair trade coffee that reduces distribution costs by eliminating the middle men. They also sell chocolate that is produced without child labor or the use of deadly toxic agricultural pesticides. The public welfare goods of social enterprises and self-support centers are not sold for profit. Social welfare organizations are allowed to sell their products in the Beautiful Store and the total purchase price is given back to the organization.
In addition, there are many activities that promote the spread and sharing of different cultures such as, Beautiful Saturday, Beautiful Sharing School, and the Movable Store. The Beautiful World Project supports the third world programs that protect the livelihood and safety of the residents of underprivileged countries, and provides them with a more solid base of life. Social enterprises
A social enterprise is an enterprise that reinvests their profits for social goals rather than profit maximization. The purposes of social enterprises range from social integration, job counseling, providing social services, and supporting the regional economy.
Haetbitchon Tteokbang is a rice cake store. The store is staffed by people over the age of 60, and it is operated by the Daegu Nam-gu senior club. This club supports elderly people’s participation in society and economic activity to promote healthy senior living. Haetbitchon Tteokbang is the most successful business at the Daegu Nam-gu senior club. The store is located in Bongdeok1-dong, Nam-gu, Daegu. Haetbitchon Tteokbang uses 100% Korean glutinous rice, and they deliver anywhere in Daegu. Currently, they fill orders for events, and they do not sell their products on the retail market. Their profits are reinvested into senior job businesses.
Peace Trade is a social job creation agency that is supported by the Ministry of Employment and Labor and is operated by the Daegu YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association). They sell fair trade coffee, coffee powder, tea bags, and pottery. They promote fair trade coffee through catering services that make use of coffee beans, coffee class programs, and pottery. They consist of 10 employees, half of them are disadvantaged people who otherwise would have a difficult time finding a job. The shop is located in Samdeok-dong 3-ga, Jung-gu, Daegu.
Peace Trade engages in fair trade with underdeveloped countries such as East Timor and the north Chiang Mai farming village in Thailand. This shop exhibits and sells world fair trade items such as Chiang Mai handicrafts and “Peace coffee” from East Timor where the coffee is harvested and processed manually by the farmers.
As ethical consumerism has become an issue, ethical enterprises have begun to receive more attention. Many regular enterprises are participating in becoming ethical enterprises. Two of the most popular ethical enterprise brands are: TOMS Shoes, a shoe brand and The Body Shop, a cosmetics brand.
TOMS Shoes has a one for one system of donating shoes. If a consumer buys a pair of shoes at TOMS Shoes, another pair of new shoes is sent to children in third world countries. Blake Mycoskie, the founder of TOMS Shoes, decided to create this brand after seeing children go barefoot while traveling in Argentina. He was inspired by Alpargata, traditional shoes in Argentina, and designed TOMS Shoes after them. In Africa and South America, many poor children go barefoot. They set their feet on the rugged and polluted ground, so they become infected by parasites through wounds in their feet. In Ethiopia, more than 1,000,000 children suffer from elephantiasis. It is a disease that is completely preventable by wearing shoes.
The Body Shop is a cosmetics brand that is famous for making eco-friendly cosmetics. They have five guiding principles about the environment and human rights.
1. No Animal Testing
They also make artificial musk, so they can put the perfume of musk into the cosmetics without killing musk deer.
2. Support Community Fair Trade
Support Community Fair Trade is a program sponsored by The Body Shop that gives regional producers greater economic power and returns part of their profits to the community through fair trade. They trade with about 25,000 farmers around the world, and fair-trade-based material accounts for 75% of The Body Shop’s products.
3. Activate Self Esteem
The Body Shop actively campaigns to eradicate domestic violence annually around the world. They launched this campaign in England.
4. Defend Human Rights
They have participated in fund raising and social awareness campaigns regarding domestic violence since 1994. They also sponsor programs to correct misconceptions about AIDS. “Children on the-Edge” was established in 1990 and is currently active in 11 countries such as East Timor, Rumania, and Aceh Indonesia. In order to help “Children on the-Edge” consistently, this program sells Bags for Life, an organic cotton bag, and all profits are used for child welfare.
5. Protect Our Planet
Every outlet of The Body Shop is designed with wood that has acquired the certification mark of the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council). The mark certifies that the impact of using that wood on the environment is minimal. Product containers are also made from recycled plastic.
Ethical consumerism is not difficult once you put your mind to it. When you go shopping, you need to think about nature and the people who made the items you are looking for. This could be enough to start you down the road to ethical consumerism. Korea still needs to recognize ethical consumerism. It is not easy for Korean consumers to find items that bear the fair trade mark. However, we are just in the beginning stages, and many people are making an effort to promote ethical consumerism. Depending on the principle of increased demand leading to increased supply, if many people demand ethical products, the supply will increase. Therefore, ethical consumerism will become easier. Through ethical consumerism, many producers who are squeezed by large corporations can work for proper pay, the environment and animals will not be harmed, and many neglected classes of people will be able to find help.