An Easy Way to Be a Socially Conscious Consumer

An Easy Way to Be a Socially Conscious Consumer

You hop off the subway at your usual station, weaving through throngs of morning commuters as you make your way to your familiar Starbucks. The line is long—snaking past the snacks and around that tempting display of overpriced mugs, and for a moment, you fear your habitual coffee detour will make you late for work. Then your iPhone buzzes and you remember the Starbucks app—that glorious technological innovation that lets you place an order without conversing with a single human being. You tap away, and within seconds, your grande café au lait is being crafted behind the counter. The barista calls your name and you unleash a sigh of relief. Coffee in hand and phone in pocket, you arrive at work five minutes early. Sound familiar?

The Importance of Corporate Social Responsibility

Like most Americans, I am a dedicated smart phone user and a frequent patron of coffeeshops. I buy my iced soy lattes without considering where the coffee came from, and when I am eligible for a phone upgrade, I do not mull over the sinister intricacies of Apple’s supply chain—but I should, and you should too.

This afternoon, I found myself perusing The Good Shopping Guide, a website that evaluates brands and products on how ethical they are. The Guide gives each company an index rating out of 100 based on its record for environmental reporting, pollution, animal testing, factory farming, workers’ rights, involvement in armaments, and genetic engineering practices. Once I felt I understood the Guide’s exhaustive criteria (and trust me, they are thorough), I decided to see how some of my favorite companies stacked up. It would be a euphemism to say I was disappointed.

ethical consumer

As an avid coffee drinker, my first stop was the section on cafés. My heart plummeted when I read how large coffee companies wreak havoc on small producers by forcing the price of coffee so low, the small producers must work below the poverty line. A simple fix to this gastronomic problem is buying fair trade coffee, which helps fund future development in countries that produce coffee and protects small producers as well. *Reads, cries, deletes Starbucks app*

Speaking of apps, the next section I researched on cell phones. If I am a devoted coffee shop patron, then I’m an iPhone aficionado, owning a smart phone since the tender age of fifteen and seeing them through multiple generations. As I read about the ramifications of the tech industry, the phone sitting on my desk began to seem more and more malevolent.  

I found that one of the biggest issues in the tech industry is the use of conflict minerals—materials that finance armed groups and dangerous working conditions in third world countries. Toxic chemicals in phones cause harm to workers in countries where the phones are disposed of, and the use of child labor is rampant in the industry. A solution the Guide offers is to recycle old phones at local grocery stores, charities, or shops that offer the service.

Be an Ethical Consumer

Now that you have this information, what can you do with it? To start, I would suggest researching how ethical your favorite companies’ practices are. The Good Shopping Guide is a fantastic place to start. You can use the site to check how various businesses stack up, or you can peruse its extensive directory of ethical brands (which Mata Traders was just added to!!) The site also offers product reviews, a history of ethical shopping and corporate social responsibility, and information on helping transform industries.

So let’s rewind: you hop off the subway at your usual stop and walk into your familiar coffee shop. Sure, you have to wait a few minutes for the fair trade brew that’s on drip, but you know the barista by name, and I guarantee the coffee tastes incredible. Your phone buzzes in your back pocket and you’re reminded that you’re eligible for an upgrade with your carrier. As you wait for your coffee, you research phone recycling services in Chicago. The barista calls your name, and coffee in hand, phone in pocket, you arrive at work five minutes late—but hey, it’s a small price to pay for being an ethical consumer.