As society has become more affluent, we've tended to indulge more time and energy in ethical issues. In the past year alone, the New Economics Foundation's ethical purchasing index has risen by 15%.
Ethical consumerism is of course nothing new - The Vegetarian Society was founded in 1847. And occasionally campaigns such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott in the US in the 60s, Caesar Chavez's California grapes boycott and boycotts of South African products during the days of apartheid have attracted widespread support.
However, most campaigning has been the preserve of a vocal and committed minority. Even nowadays protest is still restricted to a highly vociferous anti-consumerist group whose actions are not widely supported.
However, even if there is little support for their campaigning methods, we cannot afford to disregard their views. The fringe interests of today become the concerns of the mainstream over time, particularly given the potential of the internet to rapidly spread both news and misinformation.
For example, the 'antis' have helped to raise awareness of Third World debt and, as a result, prompted government action. And clearly, they tap into a latent anti-Americanism within most people; you may love eating McDonald's, but do you love McDonald's?
Most consumers are moderate but their expectations of corporate social responsibility are being steadily changed by the issues these campaigners raise and this, in turn, is influencing their purchase behaviour.
For example, concerns about animal welfare have fuelled demand for Freedom Food, organic meat and dolphin-friendly tuna while growing environmental awareness has prompted a massive growth in organic/quasi-organic and bio-dynamic products. …