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The bigger the company, the more likely its practices are unethical, and buying from ethical brands is more important than ever.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, consumer expenditures are steadily rising as time goes by. With consumers spending increased amounts of money, it’s interesting to wonder how much ethical thought is going into their purchases.

What makes a company unethical will vary with each consumer but could include businesses that mistreat their workers, donate to causes that could be considered unjust or that contribute to the downfall of the environment. Many consumers would probably agree that buying from these kinds of businesses is supporting and sustaining something immoral, but those same people may not even realize the companies they’re buying from fall into this category and they don’t even know it.

Amazon is one of the biggest companies in the world with 95 million Prime subscribers in 2018. While millions of consumers buy from Amazon, a site where almost anything can be obtained with the click of a button, not nearly as many are aware of Amazon’s dark history of inhumane workplace environments and mistreatment of workers. According to The Morning Call newspaper, there have been reports of Amazon pushing their workers to the extreme, like forcing them to work in a warehouse that was over 100 degrees while refusing to open the doors for airflow. Company drivers have also complained of being pressured to drive at dangerously high speeds in a time crunch and according to the Guardian, Amazon doesn’t provide workers with easily accessible aide after workplace injuries

Due to public outcry, Amazon has tried to right some of these past wrongs. Still, other businesses should also be called into question. With cheap online clothing stores like Shein, Romwe or Zaful, the specifics of where and by whom their clothes are produced isn’t completely transparent to the public. For example, a theory as to why these shops may be able to sell their product for such a low price is because the textiles are being produced in sweatshops where potentially underage people are being paid cents an hour, according to The Fabric Social, an ethical clothing brand.  

Other consumers, for example, may find a company’s financial support of a specific organization to be unethical. 2018 saw the “NRA boycott” where many global-scale businesses like Hertz and United Airlines cut financial ties with the NRA after a growing issue of mass shootings, according to financial analysis website, Money. Other companies like Home Depot and Taco Bell have donated to Trump’s 2020 election, according to BET. For some consumers, these may be an unacceptable place to spend money.

Some companies are known for their environmental sustainability, which many business monopolies don’t consider in production due to desires to save energy and money. IKEA, for example, is a global brand name that actively uses solar panels, secures wood from sustainable sources and grows its own cotton from acclaimed ethical farms, according to Virgin Unite. This is an example of a huge business that makes billions of dollars yearly according to Statista, while doing their part for the environment. 

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Perhaps an argument for shopping ethically is that many of these brands promote themselves as such and can become an expensive “niche” that most Americans can’t afford. For example, many clothing brands like Outerknown label themselves as being ethical, with products that are cruelty-free and handmade but carry three-figure prices. However, it’s not impossible to shop ethically and inexpensively. IKEA, the clothing store Pact or even thrift stores are easy ways to shop with a clear mind without hurting anyone’s wallet.   

The average person would probably never dream of giving their money to a sweatshop or an organization they disagree with. Yet, when consumers are incentivized by a product, unethical practices become shadowed and often not even considered, which ends in buyer’s money going to those same sources they’d protest. Buying ethically can support humane treatment and a more positive outlook for the environment and is a simple way that many Americans can do their part. 

Josie Haneklau is a sophomore political science and psychology double major. Contact Josie at hanekljr@dukes.jmu.edu.