October 4, 2021

Putting Ethical and Moral Principles into Action as Consumers

The Bahá'i International Community tells us that "the shift towards a more just, peaceful and sustainable society will require attention to a harmonious dynamic between the material and non-material (or moral) dimensions of consumption and production." However, many of us are unsure how we can achieve a harmonious dynamic between the material and the moral in our own daily lives. After all, we are part of an economic system that applauds consumerism, and although we know that conspicuous consumption contributes to inequality and climate change, how do we make morally and ethically driven purchasing decisions?

Daniel Truran, director of EBBF* (Ethical Businesses Building the Future) has suggested that we can take actions in our daily lives that will make a difference. He challenges us to think about how we can put the principles of justice, unity and a commitment to human wellbeing into practice in our individual economic decisions.

Truran offered some compelling arguments for why ethical business practices make good economic sense. For example, he argues that justice and equity in the workplace can motivate employees to work harder, while inequality undermines motivation. If employees are not being treated well in a workplace, they will likely feel less motivated to contribute to the business's success. However, he is optimistic that in recent years – and especially during the past year of the pandemic – there has been a growing sense that businesses must refine their purpose and become more socially engaged. He sees a " global culture shift" towards a more socially responsible and environmentally sustainable model of business that contributes to justice and unity rather than eroding them. He also offered some suggestions on how we, as consumers, can make decisions that will help propel businesses towards adopting ethical business practices.

On an individual level, Truran suggests that we should try to shop locally, rather than from big box stores (when it is safe to do so), or online through Amazon and other e-tail businesses. That way we can get to know the business owner and employees and build positive social interactions. You might want to buy locally sourced goods by purchasing fresh food from a farmer's market or buy a subscription to weekly Community Shared Agriculture (CSA baskets) or by looking for food in the grocery store that is supplied by a local producer.

For things that consumers need that are not provided by local shops, there are various certification programs that can help people find the companies that are more just, more sustainable and more socially engaged. Although Truran admits that no certification methodology is perfect and that all businesses are imperfect to some degree, there are some we can look at in order to make better choices about the products and services we buy and the investments we make.

One such program is the international B Corps Program  which certifies companies as being a "new kind of business that balances profit and purpose" and "uses business as a force for good.” This site has a directory of businesses from around the world that have been assessed for their sustainability, social responsibility, etc. There are dozens of Canadian companies listed there, which includes everything from coffee roasters (Equator and Muskoka) to clothing producers (Kotn and Frank and Oak) to solar panel suppliers and consultants. We shouldn’t get overanxious about every consumer decision we make, but we can take some first steps towards building awareness and making better purchasing decisions.

There are a number of certification programs in Canada that can help us choose products that are produced with less impact on the environment by workers who are paid fairly. Fair Trade certification in Canada gives you a list of food and clothing companies that treat their employees, suppliers and producers equitably. Another good Canadian source of information for ethical investing and ‘clean capitalism’ is Corporate Knights. Corporate Knights defines clean capitalism as “an economic system in which prices incorporate social, economic and ecological benefits and costs, and where participants know the full impacts of their marketplace actions.” Their 2021 ranking of the best sustainable companies in the world includes well-known Canadian companies including like Telus, Canadian Tire, and Cascades (paper products).

As consumers, the resources and capacity for making morally and ethically based decisions continue to grow, just as companies worldwide are realizing the need for sustainable practices within their companies.

* EBBF was formerly the European Bahá'í Business Forum

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