Looking behind the Label: Global Industries and the Conscientious Consumer

Looking behind the Label: Global Industries and the Conscientious Consumer

Looking behind the Label: Global Industries and the Conscientious Consumer

Looking behind the Label: Global Industries and the Conscientious Consumer

Synopsis

What does it mean when consumers "shop with a conscience" and choose products labeled as fair or sustainable? Does this translate into meaningful changes in global production processes? To what extent are voluntary standards implemented and enforced, and can they really govern global industries? Looking behind the Label presents an informative introduction to global production and ethical consumption, tracing the links between consumers' choices and the practices of multinational producers and retailers. Case studies of several types of products--wood and paper, food, apparel and footwear, and electronics--are used to reveal what lies behind voluntary rules and to critique predominant assumptions about ethical consumption as a form of political expression.

Excerpt

The furniture shopping trip was more complicated than expected. Searching for a new headboard, my wife and I (Bartley) hoped we would find something that was well made, preferably under decent conditions. When we asked about items made from wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, we mostly got blank stares or information that seemed intended to divert our attention. One saleswoman was telling us proudly about the store’s furniture being made in the usa when we saw “Made in Vietnam” stamped in large letters on the back of one piece. We knew that logs were being harvested illegally—not to mention unsustainably—in Laos, Indonesia, and Russia and shipped to factories in Vietnam and China to make furniture for consumers in North America and Europe. We also knew that the young women and men working in these factories endured health hazards and long hours to meet the low prices and fast delivery times that retailers demanded. Not that “Made in the usa,” even if we could find it, would be a perfect guarantee either, since labor laws are frequently violated here as well, and unsustainable forestry is not unique to developing countries.

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