Ethical consumption is expanding rapidly, and deserves attention from anthropologists. This panel considers ethical consumers and ethical consumption in terms of consumer values, the efficacy of ethical consumption and the relationship between markets, ethics and politics.
Ethical consumers prefer objects that are produced and traded in ways that fit the purchaser's values. While this can be a way that people define themselves through consumption, commonly ethical consumers seek to bring about a more ethical world. It is associated with Fair Trade, organic and free-range foods, farmers' markets and the like. It is expanding rapidly as a growing number of people seek to use their purchasing decisions to bring about changes in commercial practices and relationships, often in distant parts of the world. However, it has attracted little anthropological attention. This panel approaches this social-activist aspect of ethical consumption in a variety of ways. First, who are ethical consumers? What are their values and why have they become ethical consumers? Second, how effective is ethical consumption in affecting commercial practices? How much do ethical consumers know about the practices that they seek to affect through their purchasing? What do producers know of the values of these consumers? Third, what are the political consequences of ethical consumption? Does it signal an abandoning of conventional political activity and its goal, state action? Finally, what is its relationship with the market? Is the market a way people can reliably and effectively express their values, or does it have an influence of its own that can militate against at least some of those values? This exploratory panel will consider these questions through both analytical and ethnographic presentations on producers, merchants and consumers, and the overall processes and issues of ethical consumption.