Monday, January 11, 2016

The ugly unethical consumer

The sign said that if I bought one I could buy another of that same for free.  Two for the price of one.

I stood there looking at the colorful packets, for what seemed like an eternity.  I then walked away.

After picking up a few things, I passed by the the same display.  It was too damn tempting.  It has been years since I ate them.  Even now, I can feel the saliva gathering in my mouth as I think about that taste.

I picked up a packet.

And then I did something that killed it all.  I looked at the nutrition label.

I put the packet down.  I checked out.

I reached home and ate a banana instead!

Being a mindful consumer is no fun.

I have blogged in plenty about this mindfulness.  Whether it is about my personal health, or about killing spiders at home, or about recycling or about flying ... the list is endless.  It is tiring, I admit, to always consciously choose something that is "better" than something else that is "worse."  Apparently this is not a typical consumer behavior:
No one wants to knowingly buy products made with child labor or that harm the environment.
But a new study shows that we also don’t want to work too hard to find out whether our favorite products were made ethically. And we really don’t like those good people who make the effort to seek out ethically made goods when we choose not to.
The friend passed along the news item about the research to me.  I wonder if I am supposed to read between the lines there and be less mindful and just live a little! ;)
Researchers have found that a) we’re lazy when it comes to investigating the ethics of our purchases, and b) we resent those who do take the time to research the social and environmental impacts of, say, a six-dollar T-shirt made in Bangladesh, and then opt for a more ethical alternative.
I suppose "ethical consumer" is as much an oxymoron as is "military intelligence" or "social science" ;)

We prefer to be ignorant.  Willfully, intentionally, ignorant.  We work hard to avoid knowing how the sausage is made.

The research findings are shocking statements one after another:
In fact, we denigrate consumers who act more ethically than we do, seeing them as less fashionable and more boring.
Worst of all, seeing others act ethically when we don’t undermines our commitment to pro-social values.
“You choose not to find out if a product is made ethically. Then you harshly judge people who do consider ethical values when buying products. Then that makes you less ethical in the future.”
Seriously? :(

What if the packages had information similar to the nutrition information on the Fritos bag that I put back?
Companies that use ethical practices in producing their products can help by making that information very prominent, right on the packages if possible. People are not going to go to your website to find out your company’s good deeds.
Yeah, right, like that will happen--after all, "business ethics" is an oxymoron!


Ramesh said...

Your last sentence is an awful one. "Business Ethics is an oxymoron " Really ?? You wrote that ??

What has ethics got to do with Fritos ? If you don't want to eat it - don't. Incidentally a packet once in a while will do you no harm. Anything is dangerous only in excess. We are also meant to enjoy life once in a while.

I have a zillion arguments against your rant on the six dollar Bangladeshi T shirt that I won't even start. Many large companies that source products from the developing world have strict standards that cannot be circumvented. Try employing child labour and selling to WalMart. Things have changed a lot my friend. Its not a perfect world, but large companies have actually done a huge amount of good improving labour practices in the developing world. Definitely they have done more than their respective governments.

Mike Hoth said...

There are two types of people who dominate the Western World. The first group dominates numerically and prefers not to be told more than they'd like to hear. They're the ones who get upset when you show them how sausage is made. The second group dominates politically and would rather you not think any more than they tell you to. They get upset when people cry out against "3 servings per tiny bag of chips".

Our difficulty is that we don't fit into either group! That's why you are a hermit in a crowded hallway and I was very unpopular in deeply secular engineering school. Perhaps the stereotypical guru doesn't sit on a mountainside because he chose to go, but because people got sick of listening to him.

Sriram Khé said...

Oh please, don't cry a river for "business ethics" ... you pass on the comment on "military intelligence" and on "social science" and only "business ethics" rubs you the wrong way? Let us see ... the awesome tobacco industry is nothing but a stellar example of "business ethics" ... or the "Fair-&-Lovely" kinds, or, hey, how about Volkswagen's zero-emission cars? Puhleeeeeze!!!!!

When I write about higher education not being ethical, or about the unethical unions, you gloat and have a great time. By the same token, Ramesh, accept that "business ethics" is an oxymoron.

I have never cared for the "guru" withdrawing from society approach, Mike. I love the Socrates kind who is out there in front pissing people off with troubling questions one after another. While I have certainly been forced into exile, the hermit in me is more a reflection of my introverted nature.

Narayanaswamy S. said...

You are right on about the "not wanting to know about favorite products".
A few years ago, when a friend tried to marshal support for a protest against Kraft brand (I forget now what they did to invite her ire) on the still nascent social media, she was hounded out by the "fans" of the brand.

Sriram Khé said...

Whether it is our favorite brands of food or politicians or religion or whatever, we prefer not to know anything bad that will challenge our loyalty to that brand, food, politician, religion or whatever ... but then apparently my purpose in life is to raise those troubling questions about our favorite brands of food or politicians or religion or whatever ;)

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