To thousands of corporations, driving the prices of their products down is one of the most important mantras to live by. And that’s good news for you, the consumer, right? The cheaper stuff is, the more you can buy.
But hold on a sec. When you really start thinking about what’s behind those dollar-store prices, you may want to put away your credit card. To keep prices low and still make a profit, companies may underpay their workers, abuse their animals, harm the environment and even shortchange customers in product quality. As long as they can offer a low price, many companies look at little else.
Did I just bum you out? Take away your love of shopping? Don’t worry, you can still shop without the guilt—and you can even make the world better in the process. How? Be a consumer who votes with your pocketbook. Become an ethical consumer and shun products that aren’t made and sold in an ethical way. Here’s how:
Buy products from companies that donate a part of the profits earned
Many product advertisements play up the fact that a portion of the product price goes to charity. Many consumers rush out and choose the charitable product over other competing products just for this reason. Unfortunately, most companies advertising such charity donate no more than 1% to 5% of the purchase price. You should look for a brand that gives at least 10%.
Support fair trade practices
Buying fair trade products guarantees that the workers who make them are paid a living wage — usually 15% of the retail price of the product. That is important, especially to international aid experts like Michael Greene, the Director for the Mission of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in the Kyrgyz Republic. Communities where people are paid a fair wage are more stable and they require less charity. Wherever possible, it makes sense to choose fair trade products rather than products that sell at the lowest price. Doing this helps countries ranging from Argentina in South America to the Kyrgyz Republic in Central Asia.
Fair trade products, unfortunately, aren’t available everywhere. You need to work a little to find them. The Fair Trade Federation runs a directory that gives you the name of every fair trade retailer in the country. Whatever product you need to buy, you should look it up on the fairtrade federation directory at and then make your choice. Many major retailers are a part of the fair trade movement, too. Whole Foods and Wild Oats are among them.
Shop at local businesses, even if they charge much more
With close to $100 billion in revenues, Amazon is the largest online retailer in the world. Yet, selling products as cheaply as it does, the company is mostly a loss-making one. Investors still constantly step up to invest in the company, though. Why does this happen?
In 2011, Amazon released a company manifesto that was noted around the world for its candor (you can read about the manifesto in an article on The Verge called Surprise! Jeff Bezos explains to Amazon investors why no profits are a good thing). In it, the company explains that its aim is to undersell local retailers everywhere to the point that they are driven out of business. Then, when Amazon is the only surviving retailer in the country, it will begin to raise prices. Consumers will have no choice.
Giving your business to the cheapest major retailer may save you money today. Twenty years down the line, though, your children will pay extremely inflated prices and have no choice. The answer, then, is to always buy local. This is what keeps competition alive and keeps prices down over the long term. It also keeps power from concentrating in a few hands.
Shop at local farmers’ markets
Farmers’ markets are another way to shop local. These markets get their produce from local farms in the area. Shopping at such markets comes with a number of benefits.
. When you vote for small, local farms, you vote against vast factory farms that need to use large quantities of pesticide.
. It doesn’t take much transportation to get produce from local farms to local markets. You shrink your carbon footprint this way.
. Locally produced honey can give you immunity to the allergens found in your area. You’ll be healthier.
. Prices at farmers’ markets are usually cheaper than at supermarkets.
Think about where you invest your money
If you invest your money in a mutual fund or even leave it in a bank, you should think about what they do with the money. Most banks and mutual funds will invest in any kind of stocks that are profitable. The values of the corporation aren’t on their list of factors to consider.
Often, when they simply go after profit, they end up investing your money in arms businesses, major oil corporations that support dictatorships in the Middle East and so on. Instead of letting your money be used in these ways, try to look for ethical banks and ethical mutual funds that make sure that your money is invested in businesses that think about more than just dollars and cents.
Happy (ethical!) shopping!