Buying Better: The Impossible Challenge of Ethical Shopping – part 1

Published on Spiegel Online International, by Markus Brauck, Dietmar Hawranek, Simone Salden and Bernhard Zand, April 18, 2015  (Photo Gallery).

Many consumers are intimidated by calls to buy smartly and sustainably. Now a handful of activists and big companies are trying to make ethical purchasing go mainstream — but they’ll have to change the way we think.  

One day, Claudia Langer found herself in the midst of a spending spree. Like a former smoker lighting up after a long break, she bought out half a toy store – garish plastic toys, Lego bricks, Barbie dolls. For the past two years, she had been making considered, exceptionally sensible and sustainable consumer choices. She hadn’t flown in a plane, and she had only purchased wooden, eco-friendly toys. “Joyless, colorless stuff that was totally uninspiring,” she says today … //

… Waiting for Critical Mass: … //
… Keal Leangky, Cambodia: … //
… A Turning Point: … //

… Hans-Otto Schrader, Hamburg:

In Germany, over 7,000 kilometers (4,350 miles) west of Rana Plaza, Hans-Otto Schrader, CEO of the Otto Group, a mail-order giant and one of the world’s largest e-commerce sites, has a surprising confession to make. He’s just been talking about a tree project his company is organizing in Africa and describing the Otto Group’s tradition of social conscience. He has personally become increasingly aware of sustainability issues, he says, and explains the horror he felt when a toy factory went up in flames in Thailand in 1987. His message: The Otto Group has an exemplary social and environmental record.

His claims are believable, but then he makes a disarmingly honest statement. Asked why Otto doesn’t make this record part of its image, he says, “We need to be careful, so we purposely keep it out of our communications strategy.”

He is worried about the power of the consumer and the Internet — the combined clout of buyers and the media. “Our belief is that you won’t necessarily be rewarded by customers and markets just because you’re making more of an effort than your competitors,” he says. “But you will be punished if you make a mistake.”

Schrader goes so far as to refer to a “culture of outrage” surrounding the issue of ethical consumerism. “If you stick your neck out too far and someone finds out your track record is less than pristine, you’ll end up a target of outrage that can destroy everything you’ve built up in one fell swoop.”

It sounds defeatist, especially given Otto’s need for an image upgrade. Not only is the company seen as dowdy, it is also being cornered by Amazon. But it’s true that the media and customers are especially quick to blame supposed “good guys” for any breaches of ethical codes — as drugstore chain dm, Germany’s most popular retailer, can attest to. Shortly before Christmas, a blogger found out that the company was no longer solely manufacturing its cloth bags in a factory in Augsburg, Germany, that hires the long-term unemployed — and that it had begun having them produced in India.

A storm of indignation erupted on Twitter, with the hashtag #Taschengate, or Bag-gate. The media picked up the story, and before dm even had a chance to explain itself, its reputation as an ethical company had come under fire.

… (full text).

Part 2: How to Build an Electric Car;
Part 3: Searching for Solutions.


Anti Trans-Pacific Partnership TPP: from space, nobody can hear your upcoming AFL-CIO anti-TPP Screams (all 4 of them), on Corrente, by metamars, April 20, 2015;
TPP on en.wikipedia;
(see also: Thanks to WikiLeaks, we see just how bad TPP trade deal is for regular people, on The Guardian, by Dan Gillmor, Nov 13, 2013);

China to invest $46bn in economic corridor with Pakistan – media, on Russia Today RT, April 20, 2015;

Kazakhstan: Reject Anti-LGBT “Propaganda” Law, on Amnesty Internationa USA /Blog, by IAN LEKUS, April 20, 2015;

An Important Message from Stewart Acuff and An Important Film About Fast Food Workers by Norman Markowitz, on Political Affairs pa, by Norman Markowitz, April 15, 2015;

Europe Should Protect People, Not Borders, on Spiegel Online International, by Maximilian Poppo, April 20, 2015: The mass deaths of refugees like those seen this weekend on the European Union’s external borders is not a consequence of politicians looking away. We are in fact causing the problem with our Fortress Europe policies;

CUPE 3903 and the Failure of Top-Down Mobilization, on Mathieu Brûlé, by blog owner, April 15, 2015;
(See also:

  • Canadian Union of Public Emplyees CUPE: /about;
  • and: CUPE local 3903: /about: … represents the contract faculty, teaching assistants, graduate assistants, and research assistants at York University. With almost 3,700 members, CUPE 3903 is the largest trade union on campus …; /Annual General Meeting April 22, 2015 – Tentative agenda);

Economic Restructuring and the Politics of Low-Paid and Unwaged Work, on Socialist, March 27, 2015;

All the good stuff that cannot be measured – Yanis Varoufakis, 19.59 min, uploaded by SkriptaTV, Feb 7, 2015.

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