Ethical trade: 'Good intentions go to waste'

Jun 18, 2012

Swedish consumers are increasingly buying fair trade, vegetarian and ecological products, but is it really making the world a better place? In their new book about ethical trade, Gothenburg researchers Bengt Brülde and Joakim Sandberg are not so sure. Although it might help ease people's bad conscience, it does nothing to change the root of the problem, they say. Instead, fixing the problem will require collective solutions, such as legislation at a global level.

The development and globalisation of trade in recent decades has not only implied welfare gains for many people, it has also led to a number of difficult ethical challenges: increasing inequalities between rich and poor countries, global environmental decay and climate change, and what many people would call a growing disrespect for other people, animals and our natural environment. What are the responsibilities of consumers in this context? For example, is it morally wrong not to buy fair trade and ecological products? What are the responsibilities of businesses? And of politicians?

The authors of the new book Hur bör vi handla? Filosofiska tankar om rättvisemärkt, vegetariskt och ekologiskt (in Swedish, published by Bokförlaget Thales) explore the seriousness and extent of the above global problem. The authors mix empirical facts with philosophical discussions about people's moral responsibilities for fellow human beings, animals and the environment. They also discuss possible solutions, for example at the individual level.

'Many consumers do want to contribute to a better world,' says Joakim Sandberg. 'But you really don't change anything by choosing fair trade coffee or ecological bananas at the store. Due to the way trade works, our good intentions risk going to waste.'

The book explains how single individuals can maximise their influence, for example by choosing the most effective charity organisation or participating in collective actions and movements. However, in the end the problem must be approached at a higher level, the authors say: businesses and politicians must show more responsibility. And Sweden alone cannot make it happen – other countries must join in.

'Global problems require global solutions,' says Bengt Brülde. 'We need more and deeper international agreements, such as the Kyoto Protocol.'

Yet the prospects look gloomy at best. The Kyoto Protocol is about to expire, the global animal industry keeps growing and so does the already great divide between rich and poor countries.

'A lot remains to be done,' says Brülde. 'And our book may offer some help not only to individual consumers but also to business leaders and decision makers.'

Explore further: Can science eliminate extreme poverty?

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Framework convention on global health needed

May 11, 2011

In this week's PLoS Medicine, Lawrence Gostin from Georgetown University, Washington DC, and colleagues argue that a global health agreement—such as a Framework Convention on Global Health—is needed and would inform ...

UN: Canada still obliged to fight climate change

Dec 13, 2011

The UN climate chief on Tuesday voiced regret over Canada's withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol and said that the country still had legal obligations to work against global warming.

Do we no longer care about the collective good?

Feb 06, 2012

The Transformation of Solidarity, a book co-edited by University of Queensland sociologist Dr Mara Yerkes, tackles the subject of globalisation of national economies and societies where we put a high value ...

E-waste trade ban won't end environmental threat

Mar 22, 2010

A proposal under debate in the U.S. Congress to ban the export of electronics waste would likely make a growing global environmental problem even worse, say authors of an article from the journal Environmental Science an ...

Recommended for you

Can science eliminate extreme poverty?

Apr 16, 2014

Science has often come to the rescue when it comes to the world's big problems, be it the Green Revolution that helped avoid mass starvation or the small pox vaccine that eradicated the disease. There is ...

Japan stem cell body splashes cash on luxury furniture

Apr 14, 2014

A publicly-funded research institute in Japan, already embattled after accusing one of its own stem cell scientists of faking data, has spent tens of thousands of dollars on designer Italian furniture, reportedly to use up ...

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

RhabbKnotte
not rated yet Jun 18, 2012
So we are really just insignificant cockroaches running loose on the face of the earth, doing nothing but destruction and devastation, just like FaceBook said?
dschlink
not rated yet Jun 18, 2012
True, paying extra for fair trade, organic, etc. only reduces the price for the remaining products. That drives efforts to reduce costs, which in turn means, in general, more destructive production methods.
antialias_physorg
1 / 5 (1) Jun 19, 2012
Not everything is measured in dollars and cents. What changes he world is people's attitudes. If more people choose fair trade (or make some other form of 'good conscience' choice) then that means their attitude has shifted. This will eventually be visible in the polls.

What are the responsibilities of politicians and business in all of this? Well, politicians - and especially businesses - are the driving factor behind this as they basically represent the most evil, selfish buggers on the planet. Ordinary folks just go at some point: "we don't want to be like that".

So their actions (or legislation) doesn't matter one bit.

More news stories

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Crowd-sourcing Britain's Bronze Age

A new joint project by the British Museum and the UCL Institute of Archaeology is seeking online contributions from members of the public to enhance a major British Bronze Age archive and artefact collection.

Roman dig 'transforms understanding' of ancient port

(Phys.org) —Researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton have discovered a new section of the boundary wall of the ancient Roman port of Ostia, proving the city was much larger than previously ...

Cosmologists weigh cosmic filaments and voids

(Phys.org) —Cosmologists have established that much of the stuff of the universe is made of dark matter, a mysterious, invisible substance that can't be directly detected but which exerts a gravitational ...