Can You Afford to be Ethical?

fairtradeIT SEEMS LIKE a strange twinning of words: ‘afford’ and ‘ethical’. In these times ethical business is becoming paramount in some sectors in order to attract customers. There’s Fairtrade helping farmers get a fairer deal on produce from bananas to cocoa. Environmentally friendly packaging and sourcing are brought to our attention. Or even the fact that cows are allowed to roam freely in fantastical meadows before having their udders plugged in and drained, or hens that are free range instead of caged. Mainly these ethical approaches apply to foodstuffs.

What about everything else you might buy? After recent exposure of Amazon’s maltreatment of their workers in various countries (a multibillion dollar company), do I, a recent entrant to the world of Job, ignore the easy convenient online megastore and buy from a more ethical company? Well, maybe. Simply I don’t have the spare cash to sling about. I’d love to buy from a local shop, but to be a devils advocate, maybe they treat their staff like shit too…maybe. Ultimately I see ethical buying as an option for the more affluent, within reason. If i can afford to spend an extra £5 or more buying from someone other than a corporate behemoth sometimes I can and will, but repeated over many purchases my costs go up significantly.

Returning to food purchases, a pack of Fairtrade bananas are not significantly more expensive than non-Fairtrade, therefore I will always opt for them over Fyfes or other brands. This applies to any similar food purchases where the difference might be 30p or less between the ethical choice and the poorer one. Ethics are cheaper in this case. When buying items that cost £20 or more the discrepancies between huge suppliers like Amazon and smaller retailers becomes noticable. They are huge companies buying items in bulk and passing savings on to customers (usually!). Smaller companies cannot compete and by trying to they reduce their own profit margins.

I realise this now reads like a strange endorsement of Amazon or a similarly large seller. I’m not saying if you’re less well off be unethical. I’m merely highlighting that to be ethical costs money when buying, and when I have a bigger income I will be able to do so more easily.

3 Comments

  1. What you say makes a lot of sense – the more money you have the more you can afford to be ethical. (BTW, bananas, I read, are a lot cheaper in real terms than they were ten years ago.)

    But if you have money, then you may have the problem of figuring out where to invest it. Some people will happily buy shares in tobacco and alcohol, others will not.

    Then, here in the UK, we have the wonderful example of the ‘ethical’ Coop Bank.

    1. You raise a good point about making ethical decisions with money when you have more of it – who to invest in, who’s ethical, who isn’t etc.
      I think plenty of people are happy to take a winning ticket to any company that makes profits – maybe it’s simply a an attitude or greed for money.
      I couldn’t invest in something that is amoral. And there are examples of companies like Virgin that seem to be about as ethical as it is possible to be. So it is possible, but I think regardless of all variables, someone, some where is getting screwed down the line. Such is life?

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