In a society that constantly pushes commercial messages and altered images, millennials are characterized by their search for authenticity. This is reflected in the current movement toward mindful practices and the rise of ethical consumerism.
Because our generation is so highly connected through technology, we are more aware of social and global issues like environmental concerns and human rights. We hear about these problems through the media and we search for ways we can reach out to help. Ethical consumerism is about intentionally using economic capital to make real, positive change in the world.
In a capitalist society that relies heavily on consumer spending, the idea is that buying from ethical brands and boycotting others will drive brands to change the way they produce their goods. Ethical brands produce nontoxic goods and are made without exploiting workers, testing on animals or harming the environment.
The Huffington Post reported last year that millennials will represent 75 percent of the workforce in 2025, giving this generation the majority of the purchasing power.
“Having grown up in a world of globalization and economic disruption, Gen-Y holds a different worldview from their predecessors,” the Huffington Post article said. “They seek meaning, look for authenticity and like to rally around important causes.”
A study run by the National Union of Students in the United Kingdom revealed that two-thirds of participants said that their purchases were influenced by ethical or environmental practices.
Environmental stewardship, human and worker rights and animal welfare are some of the main causes championed by ethical consumers.
The textile industry alone is a major cause for concern regarding the environment and worker conditions. Producing one ton of fabric to make clothing takes 200 tons of water, which is enough to fill several swimming pools. Water, air and soil pollution, as well as wildlife extinction and global warming, are also results of industrial textile production.
There are reports of factories in Bangladesh and Cambodia collapsing, killing thousands of people. Though they have since made efforts to change, Zara once produced their clothing by Bolivian workers in unacceptable conditions.
In his book “Unequal Freedoms,” economist John McMurtry argues that “no purchasing decision exists that does not itself imply some moral choice and there is no purchasing that is not ultimately moral in nature.”
Every decision we make, no matter how small it may seem, has an effect on others; no individual exists in a vacuum. Because of this, every action we take has a moral consequence. Purchasing decisions are no different. When we buy items that were manufactured by people in sweatshops, we are supporting that company and condoning their practices.
Instead of this, take the time to research where the products you’re buying come from and how they are made. Brands like Everlane, Patagonia and Eileen Fisher are committed to transparency, carefully overseeing their supply chain to ensure fair working wages. They also ensure their factory’s integrity and maintain ethical production practices, revealing their true costs and sharing the factory and production stories behind the items.
The Art of Simple’s website has an ethical shopping guide that links to ethical brands for clothing, accessories, food and drink, home goods, furniture and toys. Another app called Good On You helps you shop ethically while on-the-go. Buying organic produce from local markets is also recommended. You can also begin to do your part to support animal welfare by making sure your health and beauty products are made by companies that don’t test on animals or use animal products.
Buying pre-loved clothing is another fun form of ethical shopping. From flea markets to thrift stores to clothing swaps, buying second hand allows you to shop sustainably and save money. It also allows you to build a more unique wardrobe than if you bought from fast-fashion, mass-market retailers who utilize cheap labor to rapidly produce trendy clothing.
Do these practices actually yield results? Though the ethical consumer movement is just now hitting the mainstream, a study by Forbes shows that “87 percent [of millennials] would be more loyal to a company that helps them contribute to social and environmental issues.”
With the majority buying power that millennials possess, companies would be smart to adopt ethical business practices and be transparent about how their goods are produced. Many millennials are stepping up and showing responsibility by holding businesses accountable for their practices. If our entire generation started making similar positive choices, we can begin to have a big impact on the world around us.