The Benefits of Ethical Consumerism: College Essay Examples

Abstract: With the rise of globalisation, ethical consumerism has an increasingly more important role within the global society. As international communities grow closer to one another, it is more important than ever to focus on the responsibilities of global citizenship and the importance of global communities coming together to pressure international corporations to uphold ethical and sustainable methods of production. The following essay writer argumentative essay will address globalisation and ethical consumerism, arguing that ethical consumerism benefits communities worldwide, though the focus of ethical consumerism needs to move from the individual responsibilities of consumers to a more collective political approach.

The Benefits of Ethical Consumerism

Introduction

            In modern society, making consumer purchases has become a large part of a person’s identity. Deciding what to buy and who to buy it from not only supports the person’s sense of self, but also tells others about them (Papaoikonomou, Cascon-Pereira, & Ryan, 2014). Consumers are now becoming more aware of the impact their purchasing decisions have on the world as climate change is becoming more socially recognised worldwide. Being able to make ethical consumer choices pressures corporations to use sustainable practices that cause less harm to the environment and results in less waste by the corporations and the consumer (Papaoikonomou & Alarcon, 2015). Some may argue that even ethical consumerism is hopeless and that it does not lead to lasting change because consumer behaviour is often inconsistent (Irwin, 2015). Even if consumers only make ethical purchase decisions some of the time, the desire for sustainable practices places additional pressures on organizations and forces them to adopt more environmentally friendly practices. Globalisation and ethical consumerism are two important concepts of modern society that continue to evolve, even as more developed nations begin to try and separate themselves from being global citizens and take on less responsibilities in terms of purchasing power. Ultimately, ethical consumerism is a positive force that causes a higher level of mindfulness among consumers worldwide and pressures international corporations to maintain sustainable practices and cause less harm to the environment and global communities.

The Impact of Globalisation on Society, Culture, Politics, Economics & Business

            Globalisation has a wide impact on societies around the world, even though most of the focus of globalisation is on business and economics. There are a wide range of definitions for globalisation, but it can be best explained as a process of integration and ongoing interaction among different companies, governments, and people of different countries across the globe (Reysen & Katzarska-Miller, 2018). Globalisation has occurred through trade and business expansions into other countries, but there are also cultural and social exchanges that occur when members of different countries interact with one another through trade (Smith, 2013). As Smith (2013) explains, “people forget that economics does not exist in a vacuum. Culture indicates essential goods—music, movies, books, fashion, and art… that would not exist without culture” (Smith, 2013 p. 1). Through globalised trade, societies around the world are affected politically, economically, and culturally. While many people embrace globalisation and the opportunities that it presents for advancement or exchanges of resources that will better their lives, others turn to feelings of nationalism as a way to protect their individual culture which they see as being threatened by other cultures as globalisation practices grow (Smith, 2013). This can create political and social issues between countries worldwide, which harms the process of globalisation.

Real World Issues Involving Globalisation

            One of the primary real-world issues related to globalisation and consumerism is the continued growth of environmentally harmful corporate practices. The business side of globalisation is about expanding into new markets around the world, which often means aggressive marketing of new products, increased production, and cost-cutting measures that have a negative impact on the environment, the communities where corporations have operations, and on vulnerable populations who are taken advantage of to meet production quotas (Smith, 2013). Since globalisation also means that there are more products being offered by a greater number of competitors in an international market, corporations must find ways to remain competitive and cut costs so that the products can be offered at a lower price (Smith, 2013). The purpose of aggressively expanding into new markets and marketing products to consumers is to get more people to purchase the goods or services (Smith, 2013). While consumers have a lot of purchasing power, they may look for the best deals for themselves rather than considering the impact that their purchasing decisions have on the environment or global communities (Irwin, 2015). When consumers are unaware of their own purchasing power or do not make ethical decisions when purchasing goods, they continue to give permission to corporations to behave unethically.

What it Means to Be a Global Citizen in a Globalising Environment

            People are becoming more aware of their place in global society and the responsibilities that come with it, but as levels of nationalism have increased among developed countries many people have begun to think of themselves less as global citizens and more of citizens of a specific nation (Reysen & Katzarska-Miller, 2018). Interestingly, people of less developed countries have begun to view themselves more as global citizens while people of developed nations have begun to step away from defining themselves as global citizens (Reysen & Katzarska-Miller, 2018). Being a global citizen in a globalising environment means that each individual has a responsibility to practice ethical behaviours, especially related to consumerism, and to be aware of how their own actions impact the lives of others around the world (Reysen & Katzarska-Miller, 2018). Failing to recognize oneself as a global citizen means that the individual does not feel a sense of responsibility towards others, or even towards the global environment, and instead focus first on their own needs or the needs of their immediate communities.

The Debate for and Against Globalisation

            Globalisation can be a force for good, improving the lives of individuals worldwide and sharing responsibility for the global environment. Increased concern for the wellbeing of others around the world is also an aspect of globalisation that improves a person’s understanding of their place in the world. It also allows them to learn more about others and identify with others through the shared human experience. Additionally, it allows people to have more diverse interactions in their daily lives, which in turn allows them to empathize with others. From an economic standpoint, globalisation also allows companies to expand into new markets, creating new jobs and improving local economies in developing nations (Smith, 2013). In many cases, globalisation can be a benefit to people around the world, raising the quality of life for people and creating stronger global communities.

            Arguments can also be made against globalisation, which also must be considered. Globalisation is effectively based off capitalism, which has always been about creating a profit. In order to do this, it means that production costs must be lowered as much as possible. This leads corporations to seek out production alternatives in developing nations where the cost of labour is lower than in the company’s own country of operations (Smith, 2013). It can also lead to corporations taking advantage of laws, or lack of laws, in other countries, which allow the corporations to cut corners in production, which in turn may harm the environment and local communities (Smith, 2013). In many cases, this leads to practices of exploiting disadvantaged labourers, higher rates of environmental degradation, and economic and social inequality (Carrington, Zwick, & Neville, 2015).

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The Role of Ethical Consumerism

            These arguments against globalisation can be addressed through ethical consumerism. When consumers become more aware of their purchasing power, they can make informed decisions about what companies to purchase products from and force companies to be more transparent about their operations (Jones, 2019). When a consumer makes a purchasing decision, they ultimately choose to ‘vote’ for a specific company or product compared to other products on the market (Jones, 2019). When enough consumers make a vote for a specific product, they indicate what it is they are interested in purchasing and what is expected of the company they are purchasing from. Other companies then look at who has the most power in the market and identify why consumers are making specific purchase decisions and then make changes to their business plans to remain competitive in the market (Jones, 2019). Even when the choices by consumers are inconsistent, showing interest in sustainably sourced products from companies, or green products, encourage other companies to adopt sustainable practices (Irwin, 2015). This leads to a larger shift among companies worldwide to practice sustainability as consumer trends show the desire for products that have been ethically produced.

Arguments Against Ethical Consumerism

            The first major argument against ethical consumerism are based on the beliefs that consumers are unable to maintain consistency and uphold ethical values in their purchasing decisions. Consumers may say that they want to practice ethical consumerism, but the reality is often that consumers make purchasing decisions that are most convenient for themselves (Carrington et al., 2015). This leads to ethical consumerism being undermined, as the point of the practice is to ‘vote’ for specific companies that are ethical and sustainable (Jones, 2019). Many consumers are also unwilling to take the time to research products and corporations to determine whether companies are behaving ethically and sustainably. Research has shown that consumers often take corporate advertisements at face value rather than doing their own research prior to making a purchase decision (Jones, 2019). This causes the ethical consumerism movement to backfire, as corporations realize they can manipulate consumers into thinking that practices are sustainable and transparent, rather than making actual changes in operations (Jones, 2019). By taking corporations at face value rather than conducting personal research, consumers feel as though they are making ethical choices even if those choices are not, in fact, ethical.

            Consumers who feel that they are making ethical choices in their consumer purchases are another concern. Researchers have discovered that it takes very little for consumers to feel as though they have ‘done their part’, which in turn leads them to feeling relieved of having further responsibilities when it comes to making informed choices or changing their own lifestyles to be more sustainable (Carrington et al., 2015). This is another strong argument against the ethical consumerism movement, as it may lead consumers to feel as though they are making a difference through their purchases, without having to make any significant changes to their own lifestyle or habits. These beliefs bring about another set of problems on a political level. As Jones (2019) explained, ethical consumerism creates a sense of “false consciousness that dampens the possibilities for political action by encouraging people to focus on their limited power as individual consumers, rather than as political actors connected to a broader collective” (p. 3). When consumers feel as though they are making a change individually, they are less likely to come together collectively, especially on a globalised scale.

            While these arguments do have merit, they can be used to strengthen ethical consumerism practices and shift the focus to the community rather than putting pressures on the individual. The purchasing power of consumers as a collective remains strong and as consumers continue to make ethical consumption a priority, it forces corporations into making sustainable change (Irwin, 2015). This requires that consumers continue to work together on local, national, and global levels to pressure corporations into being transparent about their practices and hold companies to a higher standard (Irwin, 2015). In the arguments made against ethical consumerism, it is not the underlying practice that is argued against, but the follow-through of consumers on individual and collective levels. By reframing how we view consumer power and focusing on the collective’s ability to bring about change, rather than placing the pressure on the individual consumer, more companies will be forced to address issues related to sustainability and ethical practices worldwide (Irwin, 2015).

Conclusion

            Globalisation is ultimately about bringing people together and removing boundaries that distance people of different nationalities and cultural backgrounds from one another. While not every aspect of globalisation is positive, change can occur through the practice of ethical consumerism. Having consumers make ethical purchase decisions and holding corporations to higher standards can bring about sustainable and ethical change in production, labour, and environmental concerns. The arguments against ethical consumerism, however, show that ethical consumerism needs to focus on the collective responsibilities of people around the world, rather than putting all the pressure on the individual consumer to make informed purchase choices. Globalisation is meant to reduce isolation between groups of people, so forcing the consumer to work alone to make ethical purchase decisions removes the power of the collective. For sustainable change, consumers around the world must work together on a political level for the benefit of the global society.

References

Carrington, M. J., Zwick, D., & Neville, B. (2016). The ideology of the ethical consumption gap. Marketing Theory16(1), 21–38. 

Irwin, J. (2015). Ethical consumerism isn’t dead, it just needs better marketing. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2015/01/ethical-consumerism-isnt-dead-it-just-needs-better-marketing

Jones, E. (2019). Rethinking Greenwashing: Corporate Discourse, Unethical Practice, and the Unmet Potential of Ethical Consumerism. Sociological Perspectives

Papaoikonomou, E., & Alarcón, A. (2017). Revisiting Consumer Empowerment: An Exploration of Ethical Consumption Communities. Journal of Macromarketing37(1), 40–56. 

Papaoikonomou, E., Cascon-Pereira, R., & Ryan, G. (2016). Constructing and communicating an ethical consumer identity: A Social Identity Approach. Journal of Consumer Culture16(1), 209–231. 

Reysen, S. & Katzarska-Miller, I. (2018). The psychology of global citizenship: A review of theory and research. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Smith, K. E. I. (2013). Society of globalization: Cultures, economies, and politics. New York: Taylor & Francis.

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