Shopping: are we all ethical now?

Sunday 1 November, 5.30pm until 6.30pm, Lecture Theatre 1

Our shopping habits have acquired the status of world changing acts. The UK now spends nearly £40bn a year on ethical products. We are told that the tea, coffee, chocolate, clothes or Christmas presents we buy will shape the fate of the poor in the developing world. Closer to home, farmer’s markets, organic foods and reusable bags denote responsible shopping, concern for producers and the planet. The internet is awash with shopping sites for eco-chic and ethical goods and services. Every supermarket parades the provenance of its goods, TV shows reveal the hardships of workers in garment factories in the developing world, and commentators recommend we buy fewer cheap clothes and darn our socks to reduce waste.

The recession has brought with it a plethora of advisors, keen to tell us how to shop, save, cook, eat, and live frugally and responsibly. We may save a few pence or spend a few more but can we effect serious change through our shopping trolleys? Are ethical gifts of goats or hoes for the poor really effective, or symptomatic of low horizons and moral posturing? Should we be counting the air miles on goods we buy or celebrating the great diversity of global goods now within our reach? Is ethical consumption a principled step forward, a retreat from politics, or just better than nothing? Are we all ethical shoppers now?

Ceri Dingle
director, WORLDwrite & WORLDbytes

Dan Rees
director, Ethical Trading Initiative; founder and chair, Temporary Labour Working Group

Pauline Tiffen
director, strategic planning, Light Years IP; founder, Cafedirect and The Divine Chocolate Company

Saleha Ali
assistant producer, WORLDbytes; co-presenter, Sylvia Pankhurst: Everything is possible

Produced by
Patrick Hayes director, British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA)
Recommended readings
For American Consumers, a Responsibility Revolution

We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals,

Richard Stengel, Time, 10 September 2009

Customers call for Whole Foods boycott

'Whole Foods is expensive but people shop here because they identify with the social conscience of the company - now it turns out that ethos was just a marketing exercise.'

Claire Prentice, BBC News, 23 August 2009

The Real Value of Organic Food

The moment organic agriculture began to compete in the numbers game is the moment it began to lose its identity.

James McWilliams, The Atlantic, 18 August 2009

Do we want to shop or to be free? We'd better choose fast

We have become turbo consumers, sacrificing the environment and our own happiness, while losing control of society

Neal Lawson, Guardian, 2 August 2009

Waste not: recession leads to big drop in amount of rubbish we are throwing away

Households are consuming less and recycling more, according to the latest official figures

Rachel Shields, Independent, 10 May 2009

Prosperity for All: Consumer Activism in an Era of Globalization

Do we want more stuff and more prosperity for ourselves, or do we want others less fortunate to be able to enjoy the same opportunities and standard of living that we do? Prosperity for All makes clear that by abandoning a more idealistic vision for consumer society we reduce consumers to little more than shoppers, and we deny the vast majority of the world's population the fruits of affluence.

Matthew Hilton, Cornell University Press, 8 January 2009

Is it the end for the ethical market?

Dan Welch looks at some new evidence from market research which re-inforces our belief that the doom-sayers have got it wrong.

Dan Welch, Ethical Consumer, January 2009

This year’s must-have fashion: pity for Indians

Recent TV documentaries exposing that Primark’s clothes are made by Indian child labourers have been nauseatingly elitist.

Daniel Ben-Ami, spiked, 25 June 2008

Session partners