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Dhaka-Savar-Building-CollapIn April 2013, Rana Plaza, an eight-story commercial building, collapsed in Savar, a sub-district in the Greater Dhaka Area, the capital of Bangladesh. Photo: Wikicommons | nijans

By Kitty Parker Brooks, Student Writer for Safeworld

There are so many different things to consider when thinking about ethical shopping: water pollution, climate pollution, workers’ wages, animal rights, working conditions and more. It can often feel like an unmanageable task, which is why many people don’t bother with it.

Globalisation has made ethical shopping ever harder because it is often difficult to follow the exact chain of events that got your clothes to your wardrobe and your food to your fridge. However, it is the very fact of increasing globalisation that has made ethical shopping such an important question in modern society.

What we all need to understand is that there are ethical consequences to every weekend shopping spree.

Textile factories based in countries such as India and Bangladesh have had important and positive impacts on women. Many women prefer these jobs to agricultural jobs; they can make an independent wage outside of the home and support themselves and their children, giving them more independence from their families or husbands. It is important to recognise these benefits to the global supply chain, but it is also important to recognise the much darker side. Women in these factories are normally paid very little, work very long hours, face very poor working conditions, face sexual harassment from employers and are often in physical danger from poor factory conditions.

In 2012, the world was shocked when 112 people were killed in a factory fire in Bangladesh, but only a year later, over 1,000 workers were killed when another factory in Bangladesh collapsed. Unfortunately, these tragedies happen far more frequently than most of us recognise.

This is where you, the consumer, become relevant.

The reason why ethical shopping is so important is because how you shop is a powerful way that you can tell both small and big businesses what you think is right and what you are willing to buy. For example, every time you buy a dress from a shop that works with subcontractors who provide decent working conditions for the women in their textile factories, you incentivise other businesses to do the same. You can even make small changes when buying yourself a mid-morning snack. Every time you buy a fair-trade banana instead of one that’s not, you tell your supermarket that you think fair-trade is the better option and make it more likely that they become the only type of bananas they sell.

If you want to, think of your shopping expedition as a reward scheme: you get to reward businesses that provide products in an ethical way by spending your money there, and you make it more likely that other businesses follow suit.

Importantly, through ethical shopping you can stand up for people and workers who cannot stand up for themselves. By buying clothes that have been made in factories with proper working conditions you reinforce to manufacturers, suppliers and corporations that it is important that people – like the women working in textile factories in Bangladesh, don’t put their lives at risk each day that they go to work.

This is so important because it is one of the ways that, from across the other side of the world, that we can show we care.

Does ethical shopping matter?

Yes, more than most of us realise.