Art by Ally Armstrong
The desire to make a difference is a common thread that runs through the hearts of many college students. However, in the face of a massive and systematic world, doing so can seem like a lofty and unattainable goal.
Despite this, students actually have a remarkable capacity to spark change. Students can make a significant difference by shopping with high ethical standards. By being responsible consumers, students can combat global injustice.
An ethical consumer is a person who only purchases items — clothing, food, even furniture — from companies who treat their employees fairly and who do as little harm to the environment as possible.
It can be difficult to discern which products are actually sourced ethically. After all, consumers are constantly bombarded with labels, each one promising that the product is worth buying. So what should students pay attention to when choosing what to purchase?
Examples of highly trusted labels include Fair Trade Certified, COSMOS Certified, Cruelty Free or USDA Organic. Any product with one or more of these certifications is usually a safe bet, according to the Ethical Consumer’s article “How to shop ethically” published on May 30.
Although it may seem tedious, responsible consumerism should matter to anyone who has a heart for the marginalized. The global economy tends to fixate on profits, and this mindset incentivizes exploitation. All too often, businesses make choices to make the most money, regardless of what it costs workers or the environment.
Scientists can laud the global benefits of responsible production all day to little avail. Big brands simply aren’t interested in that kind of research. They are, however, interested in finances, and this gives consumers power, according to Julie Irwin’s article “Ethical Consumerism Isn’t Dead, It Just Needs Better Marketing” published by the Harvard Business Review on Jan. 12, 2015. By making knowledgeable purchases, students can reverse the destructive trends of mainstream businesses.
When money goes one way, producers will follow. This “mindset is fundamental to creating change,” according to Besma Wayeb’s article “Five Reasons Why Ethical Consumerism Is Booming” published by the Huffington Post on Aug. 13, 2017. “Each time [consumers] shop it’s a vote to change the world the way [they] want.”
Shopping may feel insignificant; however, it’s anything but. Economic trends show that “the onus falls to consumers to demand accountability from companies that are outsourcing labor,” according to Kathleen Ebbitt’s article “How to be a responsible consumer” published March 18, 2015 by Global Citizen.
It is important to remember, however, that the ability to shop ethically is a privilege. It implies that the consumer has the time and the means to make choices based on something other than price and convenience. With this in mind, students should do the best they can with what they have, whatever that may look like.
Responsible consumption has the ability to “transform profit-oriented business into purpose-driven enterprises,” in the words of Simon Mainwaring’s article “The New Power of Consumers to Influence Brands” published by Forbes on Sep. 7, 2011.
The next time a Pepperdine student finds him or herself shopping in Santa Monica, he or she can exercise this intentionality. Also, with a Whole Foods preparing to open nearby, purchasing responsibly-sourced foods will become even more convenient.
Ethically-minded students are empowered to be difference-makers on a global scale. Their everyday choices are what will turn the tide against exploitation and toward greater global well-being.
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