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Ethical consumerism

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When is shopping considered a good deed?


WORDS MICHELLE ANNE P. SOLIMAN

Supporting local industries that hire local artisans as designers, using cruelty-free cosmetics, shopping with reusable bags, drinking with a metal straw, or carrying a tumbler to reduce plastic waste—consumers now think about the ethical supply chain.

According to Dr. Reynaldo A. Bautista, Jr., associate professor at the Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business, De La Salle University, ethical consumerism considers the moral aspects of a commodity’s production and delivery.

“The concept of green consumption, i.e. using recyclable materials, is already established in the field of consumer behavior. The ethical consumption concept broadens this view by including the ethical and moral aspects present in production and delivery of goods,” he wrote in an e-mail to High Life, citing considerations on the practice of child labor, suppression or prevention of labor unions, and animal testing.

Continued Dr. Bautista: “Ethical consumer practices aim at the fulfilment of the objectives of socially responsible trade. Thus, in the global context ethical consumerism deals with the ethical and moral aspects of product value chain from production, i.e. sourcing of materials, down to retailing of the products. The ethical consumer ideal implies that individual consumers can have a significant role, through their daily purchasing decisions, in promoting ethical corporate practices.

“Correspondingly, ethical trade refers to international trade that aims at preventing the injustices of global trade, such as child and low-paid labor, pollution of the environment, infringement of human rights and the inequalities in development caused by globalization.

“Products that make sure that all the stakeholders in the value chain are treated fairly constitute whether a product is considered ethical.”

Here, High Life takes a look at two brands and their efforts at making ethical products.

A NEW LEASE ON LIFE
In 2015, bag manufacturer Tali Handmade opened job opportunities to former female inmates from Davao after an eye-opening experience with a women’s penitentiary by co-founders Liza Crespo and Marielle de Leon-Lazaro. Tali, which means “to tie” or “bind” in Filipino, is “firmly committed to its vision of empowering women’s lives and connecting communities.”

“Tali Handmade trains and employs skilled women who live in marginalized rural communities in the Philippines, some of whom live with disabilities and have limited opportunities to work. Through the Tali Handmade enterprise, they have been given a new lease on life,” Tali Handmade co-founder Liza Crespo told High Life in an e-mail.

“Once the female inmates have served their sentence and are free women, they have the option to continue working for us. We have a halfway house to help them transition to their new lives and also to have a means of livelihood by helping us train the new inmates. This will help ensure that they won’t go back to their old ways. We also try to employ stay-at-home moms, who can continue to work from the confines of their own homes while caring for their young children,” Ms. Crespo wrote.

The one-of-a-kind handbags are made with unconventional raw materials, such as twine straw and leather from local suppliers in Marikina, using traditional crochet techniques.

“Our creative process is quite organic. We never really know how the finished product will look until it’s done. It is a collaborative process between the designers and the women artisans who make the bags. We explore different crochet patterns, experiment with different mediums based on what could be sourced locally,” Ms. Crespo wrote of their creative process.

At present, Tali Handmade has more than 75 women who work with them and are able to support their own families. “[The] income has allowed them to send their kids to school, breaking a vicious cycle of having to engage in criminal activities to make a living. What we’ve learned is that it only takes a spark to fuel change. No good gesture is too big or too small. Every bit helps,” Ms. Crespo wrote.

ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES
Dr. Bautista, in his e-mail, explained that ethical consumerism is by no means a new concept: “While ethical consumerism has been in existence for centuries, it gained greater traction in the last few decades because of environmental issues such as global warming, flooding, landslides etc. Along with it, we see communities struggling to survive and become easy targets of some companies to make their products more affordable. Ethical consumerism is a system aimed to address these issues,” he wrote.

Computer company Dell, for example, sought to recycle ocean plastics for the tray packaging of the XPS 13 2-in-1 laptop in 2017.

“In 2015, Dell became aware of the challenges facing our oceans, i.e. plastics in the oceans poses not only a threat to vital ocean ecosystems, including critical fish nurseries and coral reefs, but also adversely affects the health and longevity of marine species and humans. Dell believes we can make a meaningful contribution to tackle the issue having spent a decade experimenting with a variety of sustainable materials both in our products and packaging, e.g. we have used PCS [polymer-clad silica] plastics in our products since 2008, closed-loop plastics from e-waste since 2014 and reclaimed carbon fiber since 2015,” Dell EMC Philippines country general manager Ronnie Latinazo told High Life in an e-mail.

According to Mr. Latinazo, Dell developed a strategy—based on ongoing consultation with the likes of Jenna Jambeck, a University of Georgia professor recognized for her research on plastic waste in the ocean, and 5 Gyres, a non-profit organization that addresses the global health crisis of plastic pollution—to intercept ocean-bound plastics in areas with the highest concentration of the material.

In April 2017, after 18 months of feasibility testing, Dell launched the industry’s first ocean plastics packaging in the XPS 13 2-in-1, its consumer laptop. To make these trays, plastics are collected from beaches, waterways, and other coastal areas, and molded into the final design which bears an illustration of a whale. These packaging trays contain 25% ocean-bound plastics and 75% other recycled plastics.

Mr. Latinazo shared that in the Philippines, Dell did a coastal clean-up drive as part of the company’s global Shore Up campaign. It was in 2017 when the Dell EMC Philippines team volunteered their time to clear garbage on Freedom Island, a two-kilometer stretch of the Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area along Manila Bay. The area is considered among the last remaining wetland ecosystems in Metro Manila and considered an important marine sanctuary that must be protected against the effects of rapid urbanization.

“Dell is fully aware that social and environmental issues are increasingly important to consumers and our enterprise customers’ operations, employees, brands, and bottom lines,” Mr. Latinazo wrote. To date, Dell has used 16,000 pounds of ocean-bound plastics and wants to increase usage by 10 times by 2025.

A KEY ASPECT OF BUSINESS
Ethical consumerism isn’t just a voguish label and businesses are recognizing that consumers care about how the products they buy are manufactured. Citing the British Retail Consortium (BRC), Dr. Bautista said that “in the past decade consumers’ attitudes towards ethical issues have become of increasing relevance to businesses, so much so that they are now considered a key aspect of business strategy.

“Consumers and businesses alike are beginning to realize the importance of customer values and how meeting demands is critical if they wish to gain competitive advantage.

“The developing focus on ethical issues in consumption has seen a response from brands in portraying themselves as ‘clean, green, and socially responsible,’” Dr. Bautista wrote, pointing to the research of sociologist and organizational theorist Stewart Clegg.

“Consequently, there are more brands that claim to be ethical,” he added, offering examples listed by Joanna Doonar in “Ethical Marketing: A question of ethics”: there are brands that use ethical practices in their supply chain (American Apparel); brands that offer ethical or environmentally friendly products in their portfolio (Toyota); and brands that invest in social causes (Pret a Manger).

Taking a look at demographics, Dr. Bautista said that the Philippines tracks with the rest of the world in terms of recognizing the value of ethical consumption, and pointed out an important detail: “In the Philippines, while the younger generation are aware, they have limited buying power to purchase these products since socially responsible products are generally more expensive. The older generation has the buying power but has the lesser propensity to buy ethical products. …  A sound strategy is to cultivate awareness among the younger generation which they will bring with them when they become the main consumers in the future.”

One nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting ethical consumerism is Fairtrade International, which, on its website, defines “fair trade” as “an alternative approach to conventional trade based on a partnership between producers and traders, businesses, and consumers.” Furthermore, when a product carries the Fairtrade Mark, “it means it was produced according to international Fairtrade standards. These standards ensure Fairtrade products are socially and economically fair and environmentally responsible. Key standards include the payment of a minimum price and a premium.” In the Philippines, one can find Fairtrade in Cebu City.

“Fairtrade has been in the Philippines for several decades, unfortunately, it is not as popular as in other parts of the world. [The] major contributing factor is the high cost of becoming a full-fledged Fairtrade organization since the organization has to undergo certification. This is also the reason why there are limited marketing efforts to create awareness about fair trade in the country,” Dr. Bautista wrote.

To conclude his email, Dr. Bautista emphasized that ethical consumerism is crucial: “It will not just impact the environment which provides for our needs such as food, shelter—but also, it is crucial in restoring human decency for all the people in the world.”