Credit photo : Photo from Futurist Ufuk Tarhan
Careering around your local supermarket after a long day in the office is a feat many of us endure on a regular basis. We pick up the staples, match it with some store-cupboard regulars and another meal appears on the table. But how often do we practice conscious capitalism? Do we examine labels to align with producers’ ethics, or jump on the buy one, get one free and the three for two options?
I admit to being a mix of the two – depending how far away or close to pay day I am – but make every effort to be aware of what I am buying. Conscious capitalism, otherwise known as shopping mindfully or ethically, does not mean we have to pay premium price for everyday products. It means we reflect on the source, the production, the added value and the food waste which we will produce.
The Biggest Trap When Practicing Conscious Capitalism
There are thousands of brands under the roof of our supermarkets. Many of these brands, however well packaged, do little to support those involved in their supply chain. Over the past decades, we as consumers have been educated in many ways about how to identify ethical brands, ethical products and similarly, those with dubious supply chains. Remembering that brands are sometimes sold under different names to the company names we try to avoid serves us well as conscious consumers.
It came as a surprise to me that one of the lead offenders in a muddy supply chain is Associated British Foods. They produce Pataks Curry Pastes and sauces and Twinings tea amongst their range – two products which were included in my weekly shop. Associated British Foods are accused of the poor treatment of female employees in the developing world and the farmers who grow their ingredients, as well as being less than transparent in their corporate policies. On the other hand, some of the tea brands approved by Fairtrade Australia include Nerada and Scarborough Fair, which also sells coffee and hot chocolate.
The Labels to Look For
The purpose of this article is not to shine a light on brands which operate in a non-transparent or unethical manner. Rather, it is to encourage us all to shop mindfully whether it is in the supermarket, clothes store, local corner shop or online as we chase bargains and to ask questions of those who are selling. Unfortunately, it is not possible to ensure that every single step in the supply chain or material used is socially and environmentally responsible, but as awareness of these issues grow, it becomes easier and more opportunities open up. You may now be wondering: what do we trust, which producers should we align ourselves to, and what exactly is it that we should look out for on labels? These are some of the symbols on packaging which can help:
- Fairtrade – considered the diamond standard of ethical trading.
- Rainforest Alliance – a second to Fairtrade, though not maintaining all of the high standards set out by Fairtrade.
- Leaping Bunny logo- not tested on animals.
- Soil Association- they campaign for healthy and sustainable land use, as well as humane conditions for employees in production.
For a more in-depth exploration of the brands we know (and trust) so well, Oxfam produced a very enlightening report in 2013, Behind the Brands. They have since issued a follow-up report on progress (and in some cases, lack thereof).
Another great tool to help us shop mindfully online is the Chrome extension, DoneGood. You can use it to search for items online, or if you are on a site that does not practice conscious capitalism, it will suggest more ethical options.
Remember, conscious capitalism does not have to mean high prices. It means more widespread, shared and far-reaching values with better, safer, and more ethical supply chains.
Moeloco is committed to operating within a very transparent supply chain, aligning ourselves with producers who share our values and who promote inclusive employment. This is how we practice business ethically, in a social sense where we are conscious of the effect we have on society. Values such as equality, justice and freedom are prioritised over finding the easiest, cheapest option. Each pair of flip flops sold means one pair of shoes is donated to a child in India, but it doesn’t stop there. We use environmentally friendly inks, and have audited our factory to ensure that there is no child labour and workers are treated well. We don’t shop or do business quickly, we think about the long-term.
John Patrick O’Sullivan
Moeloco, Policy Consultant