Liz Baker - Ethically Speaking

It takes eternal vigilance

I had a friend ask me recently how she can know whats the right thing to buy when theres so much choice and so much information. She wants to do the right thing but doesnt really know where to start or who to believe. I feel much the same way.

Its also hard to say buy this or dont buy that publicly without ending up being sued. You might have heard of the so-called McLibel case. Two activists were handing out pamphlets describing the ways in which McDonalds activities were harmful to the environment. The company sued them. The two had no assets and nothing to lose so they fought the case, with help from supporters. McDonalds spent millions of dollars and the end result of the court cases and a trip to the European Court for Human Rights was a bit of a draw. All because two people were trying to bring ethical concerns to buyers attention.

Not many people are willing or able to put so much at stake. So, we are left to try and find out for ourselves and sift fact from fiction from spin.

Doing the right thing also takes vigilance. I recently received a letter from the ethical investment fund I had some money in explaining that they were now including uranium mining companies in their portfolio. For me this was like them including armaments manufacturers or companies using child labour. I am not sure what twisted logic would arrive at the conclusion that uranium mining was an ethical investment so I withdrew my money. This raised the question in my mind about what I knew about where my superannuation was invested. Given that the NSW Government doesnt have a problem with investing in tobacco companies, I have a feeling that the larger superannuation funds wouldnt blink at the same, or uranium miners.

So, now I have to try and find out and to think about moving my super fund. I dont have much super, but collectively the funds are a significant factor in our money markets. So if all of us were asking, it would raise some interesting questions. But most people wont. Whats important is the return, not the consequences of how that return on investment is made.

Much the same is true of our everyday purchases.

I am not confident that I understand enough to make the right decisions, so we return to the original problems of who to trust and where to get the information we need. For everyday purchases, I work on the principle of buying as close to the source as possible. For other things, I try to think about what Im buying and rely on a network of information resources, including people, I have come to trust. Ethically speaking, though, we are responsible for what we buy and a lack of information or poor information is not something we can use to justify our purchasing choices.

Perhaps we need some type of web-based, independent ethical evaluation information system for a variety of goods and services. Sort of like the Choice magazine put out by the Australian Consumers Association, but from the perspective of ethics rather than the consumer per se. Idealistic I know, but just a thought

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