The term ETHICAL is banded around alot these days. It is one of those words that has become part of our everyday speech, everyday marketing and everyday product descriptions. Consumers say they want ethical, and ethical purchases have increased year on year according to the polls, but what does ethical mean?
According to the dictionary, ethical is an adjective:
1. pertaining to or dealing with morals or the principles of morality; pertaining to right and wrong in conduct.
2. being in accordance with the rules or standards for right conduct or practice, esp. the standards of a profession: It was not considered ethical for physicians to advertise.
3. (of drugs) sold only upon medical prescription.
I’m sure today’s more general definition is closer to No 1. of these in that it is the method and morals of a producer as much as the product, not ‘the end’, but the means to it. The end product must also be in line with the best of eco and people consciousness too to qualify.
Ethical Junction have sumarised the ‘What is ethical?’ question very clearly. So rather than debate it further I will give you their take on it in these excerpts from the Tale of Two tomatoes.
The Tale of Two Tomatoes
Ethical” is fast becoming a brand name – a cleansing agent that can be strapped to a product or service to alleviate the guilt of consumption. Does it mean that the mythical ethical consumer is emerging, a consumer who tries to act and buy ethically in all aspects of their life? Or does there simply exist a growing demand for “ethical” products? For the two are not the same.
The hidden ingredients
…But what about everything else that went in to producing that product? Where are the raw materials sourced from? In what conditions are they grown, mined, raised, fished and processed? What about the number of miles it travelled to get on the shelf? What about what the producer does with the money? What about the “ethics” that brought that product to market?
What is ethical?
Ethical practice is about more that just fair-trade, it is more than organic, it involves holistic appraisal of every aspect that goes into the trade and industry behind a product or service, in Marxist terms it is the “means of production and distribution”. There is no one definition for “ethical”, as an adjective it’s very nature is open to interpretation, although there is no doubt that to be ethically led means to be trying to “do the right thing” at all points of the supply chain. As of yet, however, the consumer cannot easily get a fair appraisal of the ethics that lie within and behind a product as easily as they can find the ingredients that lie within it. So the question must be: Do consumers really know in what proportions they are demanding “ethical”?
What measures the ethical quality of a product? Minimal environmental impact? I think so. Respect for fellow living creatures? Probably. Fair treatment of all labour involved in the production process? Definitely. So the key to a truly ethical product lies in the production process and the “worker” is core to that as we are, mercifully, not entirely mechanised yet. It would be fair to say then, based on ethical demand requiring suppliers to adhere to these practices, the worker is going to come off quite well. Fair wages, workers rights and limits on the amount of hours worked are just some of the benefits available. However, we haven’t addressed price yet.
Addressing the price
Price, whilst the least tangible of all costs that we can relate to a product, is more often than not, the deciding factor in the relative success of any product or service. Price, traditionally, drives both demand and supply. Price as a financial measure is ultimately a measure of the relative cost of a product. It is a generic summary of the resources that have been consumed bringing the product to market; it is not necessarily related to or indicative of the “ethical” cost of a product.
Read the full article here
In conclusion then, ethical is fair on people, fair on planet, made fairly, done fairly – against greed, against exploitation, for everyones best. It is indeed an ideal that cuts against so much of traditional trading. Can we suceed in making this ideal a reality?