The biggest challenge that businesses who are transitioning to ethical practices face is striking a profitable balance between the moral underpinnings of ethically made products and conventional consumer considerations - price, trust, trends, etc.
It’s equally difficult for the conscious consumer. These factors dominate the buying decision process, often in direct opposition to ethical sourcing, which is why the transition to ‘ethical consumer’ can be extremely challenging. It can feel risky trying new products, especially in an era where we tend to find products we love and trust, at a value price we’ve grown to expect.
Consumers currently have to source and find mostly small independent businesses if they want to purchase ethical products – whether it’s food, clothes, hygiene products or technology, it’s not as easy as just walking into your local shopping centre and popping into the first store you see. Saying this, we have seen a rise of independent ethical stores as well as major supermarkets starting to stock a selection of products that claim to be ethical - though these products are probably 1:1000 to ‘normal’ products, meaning choice is limited.
Why are we expecting and hoping for new businesses to start up just so we can get the products we want - with a variety of options? Why shouldn’t we start expecting the companies that already exist to meet our demands? Especially since the demand we are asking for will not only improve their reputation, but it will actually make a difference to people’s lives as well as the planet.
Large corporations, especially in industries known to be at high risk of modern slavery, dangerous working conditions and excess environmental damage such as the fashion industry need to go further than the standard box-ticking type of compliance and implement practices that will ensure supply chain transparency and sustainability. The people within the supply chain need to be of a higher priority than profit.
H&M is a great example with their Conscious range. They’re showing that a high street brand with relatively low prices can actually source and produce products safely and ethically whilst keeping their same ‘fast fashion’ trends, quality and prices.
In a roundabout way, if large retailers are seeing increased support for smaller, independent ethical brands, it’s a clear indication of which way demand is headed. This would be an equally effective way of prompting the bigger corporations to take note or start losing their customer base to the long tail of ethical independents.