The price of ethical consumption

This post originally appeared as a twitter thread by Vidushi here.

Morality in markets is expensive. Why does the average consumer have to bear the burden of “ethical consumption”?

As a middle-class, keen-on-a-sustainable-lifestyle consumer, my consumption choices come at significant cost to me. It requires time, effort & money to choose products that are eco-friendly, have controlled emissions, fairly traded blah blah. Not the best user experience. Fashion industry is an emissions and labour exploitation juggernaut; hence it is my personal responsibility as a consumer to buy “ethically made” clothes that are worth three times my capacity, but hey, at least I don’t support industries exploiting workers in Global South. Supermarkets provide vegetables in unnecessary plastic packaging, and because it is my personal stance to minimize plastic waste, it’s on me to invest time in finding rare, low waste alternatives. And of course, these alternatives don’t operate at the usual market price.

Standard products that markets provide for a regular consumer optimizing for price: plastic packaged, emission generating, processed foods – all are inherently damaging. And deviating to sustainability isn’t as feasible for the common person. Got to pay a price for your morals. I have to constantly justify the higher prices of “ethical” products to myself by convincing myself of having a “moral high ground”. I’m supposed to pay more to stick to my belief for a better planet for everyone, while the companies make better profit out of me paying more. People trying to live sustainably are often questioned if this expensive individual action has any impact on the grand scale. We question ourselves too and continue living with this burden because well, it’s your personal choice & it’s fair to pay for what you chose. Is it? Being a vegan is an automatic hit on your wallet. Why should I waste time deciphering ambiguous labels? Ecolabels should make me happy, which can very well be mere greenwashing. The very concept of one’s personal carbon footprint was in fact first publicized by BP. Come on.

All I see is consumers constantly struggling for fair options while companies continue standardizing their hazardous offerings. Is it fair for consumers to pay for their choices when the choices available are in fact not what they would want? Shouldn’t the onus of this morality be on these companies who force this dilemma upon us in the first place? Why should consumers have to pay for the externalities that the producers create? Do only the privileged deserve a guilt-free consumption? We need better options.

Further reading:

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