As keen-eyed readers may have guessed by now, I’m a pretty big proponent of ethical consumerism. So, today, as I sat here eating a slice of vegan cheese (Australian vegans, take note: Tofutti “cheese slices” are available in Australia, and are delicious), I started thinking: how do I know that this, or any other “vegan” product, is actually vegan? I’m just trusting that what it says on the label is true, and I have no way of knowing whether or not the company is lying in order to sell more.
O.K., so, realistically, in an age of increasing food allergies (and litigation – imagine the lawsuits from severely lactose-intolerant people if the vegan cheese really did contain dairy), it’s pretty damn unlikely that any food company would take that risk and deliberately misrepresent or mislabel their product.
But consider other items, from which such dishonesties perhaps can’t be so easily detected – items such as shoes, clothing, cars, etc. We can (generally) only take the manufacturer’s word for it that those shoes are synthetic, that those clothes aren’t made by underpaid sweatshop workers, that this car does produce significantly less CO/CO2. Very few of us have the means by which we can actually test the veracity of these claims. Enter the necessary element of trust in consumerism.
As a result, we are generally forced to trust that we aren’t being lied to; and, thus, that we are actually living as ethically as we intend to. And while I agree with the common NeoPagan sentiment that intent is a key factor in moralism, realistically, that doesn’t negate the reality and physical impact if those shoes are made from cow skin, if those clothes are the result of human rights violations, or if that car really is producing significantly higher amounts of carbon emissions than you thought.
The only way around this is to carefully research every product that we even consider buying – and I do mean carefully (look at Loreal – some of their products are “not tested on animals”, but the company still continues to generally conduct testing on animals, and who wants to support that?). But even if all your sources say that the company/product is an ethical one, that just means that they are ethical according to the publications/press releases/etc. of that company.
Isn’t it ironic that, in the age of “critical consumerism”, realistically we are still forced to operate on trust. And isn’t that thought just a little frightening, in a world where manufacturers and retailers are increasingly Machiavellian in their pursuit of profit, at the cost of everything else (including ethics)?