Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Shopping for Good

Shopping for Good

Dara O’Rourke
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 120
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Shopping for Good
    Book Description:

    "Buy local," "buy green," "buy organic," "fair trade"--how effective has the ethical consumption movement been in changing market behavior? Can consumers create fair and sustainable supply chains by shopping selectively? Dara O'Rourke, the activist-scholar who first broke the news about Nike's sweatshops in the 1990s, considers the promise of ethical consumption--the idea that individuals, voting with their wallets, can promote better labor conditions and environmental outcomes globally. Governments have proven unable to hold companies responsible for labor and environmental practices. Consumers who say they want to support ethical companies often lack the knowledge and resources to do so consistently. But with the right tools, they may be able to succeed where governments have failed. Responding to O'Rourke's argument, eight experts--Juliet Schor, Richard Locke, Scott Nova, Lisa Ann Richey, Margaret Levi, Andrew Szasz, Scott Hartley, and Auret van Herdeen--consider the connections between personal concerns and consumer activism, challenge the value of entrusting regulation to consumer efforts, and draw attention to difficulties posed by global supply chains.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-30605-8
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. I Shopping for Good
    (pp. 1-34)

    On June 29, 2007, I waited in line for hours—something I hadn’t done since college rock-concert days—for the privilege of purchasing a first-generation iPhone. From the increasingly frenzied media coverage, I knew everything about the phone’s technical specifications: its processor, memory, screen size, camera resolution, software. But I knew virtually nothing of the story behind the phone. I didn’t know where it was made, by whom, or with what effects on the environment, workers, communities, even my health.

    My ignorance began to change as Greenpeace and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) launched campaigns highlighting Apple’s use of toxic chemicals...

  4. II Forum

    • Scott Nova
      (pp. 37-44)
      Scott Nova

      The consumer-oriented strategies that Dara O’Rourke discusses are controversial in the anti-sweatshop and labor movements. Many activists and unionists are deeply skeptical of social labeling, product scorecards, and related approaches for several reasons:

      Under such schemes, multinational brands can win plaudits for small-scale and largely ersatz social initiatives and use the resulting goodwill to mask rampant, ongoing worker abuse in their supply chains.

      Vague, shifting, or non-existent standards, and minimal regulation, can allow companies to market as “socially responsible” products whose manufacture differs in no meaningful way from the sweatshop norm. Deceptive claims may become the rule, not the exception,...

    • Juliet B. Schor
      (pp. 45-50)
      Juliet B. Schor

      I am a great fan of Dara O’rourke, whose work on sweatshops and supply chains has been a tremendous contribution to both scholarship and activism. His research has improved our understanding of how to transform production systems. I agree with most of what he has written here, but I will concentrate on those areas where we may have some disagreements.

      Like O’Rourke, I am enthusiastic about ethical consumption as an avenue for social change. In eras such as our own, when corporate power has increased dramatically and business capture of the state is so advanced, looking to consumers as agents...

    • Lisa Ann Richey & Stefano Ponte
      (pp. 51-56)
      Lisa Ann Richey and Stefano Ponte

      Dara O’Rourke asks whether consumers can transform global production. We answer, “yes,” but not alone. While we agree with many of the points that O’Rourke raises, we challenge three.

      First, consumers are not citizens without a state. Regulation and state intervention are still key factors in shaping the boundaries within which consumers make their “ethical” choices. For example, without subsidies and government mandates in the United States and the European Union, there would be less renewable energy for transport, perhaps none. Today, consumers can choose whether to fill up their car with straight gasoline or a 5–10 percent ethanol...

    • Scott E. Hartley
      (pp. 57-62)
      Scott E. Hartley

      Dara O’Rourke highlights a dichotomy between what consumers claim to care about and how they act. I’d argue that there are two explanations for this dichotomy, one rooted in social psychology, the other in economics.

      Regarding the former, people overestimate their positive qualities, a form of cognitive bias known as “illusory superiority.” The norms that frame ethical consumption are aspirational, so it is reasonable to expect individuals to overestimate their ability to consume ethically. One might call it the Lake Wobegon effect, in which we are “all above average.”

      But economics is perhaps a more intractable obstacle to ethical consumption....

    • Margaret Levi
      (pp. 63-68)
      Margaret Levi

      Dara O’Rourke’s major point is worth reiterating: consumers can influence which products are made, their quality, and the sustainability of both workers and the environment throughout the production process. I add to the mix the institutional consumer—universities, governments, churches, etc., especially in cooperation with key NGOs, labor unions, and sometimes a firm’s corporate responsibility officers. But there are limits to any buying or boycott campaign.

      If countries universally enforced the laws on their books, the result would be significant improvements in workers’ lives. Yet this goal remains a pipe dream. Governments, contesting with each other for the business of...

    • Auret van Heerden
      (pp. 69-74)
      Auret van Heerden

      As consumers, we face hundreds of choices each day: what kind of shampoo should I use? Where should I buy a cup of coffee? What brand of shoe is best for my workout?

      For most consumers, the choice is automatic; many will select the cheapest option, while others will make their decisions on the basis of habit or social cues. Each of these factors poses barriers to ethical consumption, and NGOs and campaigns have focused on asking consumers to change in order to overcome those barriers.

      Of course, NGOs have created some innovative tools to help consumers make ethical purchasing...

    • Andrew Szasz
      (pp. 75-80)
      Andrew Szasz

      Should we choose to act ethically, mindfully, when the opportunity arises? Absolutely. Will such acts have societal and political impact? Perhaps. In the right context, under certain conditions.

      If ethical consuming is to become a real force for environmental protection, two conditions must be met. First, ethical consuming has to become a mass phenomenon; the sum of many individual decisions sends a market signal strong enough to encourage manufacturers to change what they produce and/or how they produce it. Second, individual acts of ethical consuming need to be experienced by the consumer as only one facet of engagement with environmental...

    • Richard M. Locke
      (pp. 81-88)
      Richard M. Locke

      Dara O’Rourke presents a strong case for the role well-informed consumers can play in promoting a more sustainable and just global economy. In an economy shaped by global supply chains, O’Rourke argues that nation-states, international organizations, and even NGOs lack the capacity to adequately regulate labor, environmental, and human rights issues. However, well-informed and well-intentioned consumers can fill this regulatory void by shaping corporate behavior through their collective purchasing decisions. By “voting with their wallets”—eitherpaying morefor products that are greener, healthier, certified, and ethically sourced and/orbuying moreof these products rather than their less ethical or...

  5. III Individuals Matter
    (pp. 89-100)
    Dara O’Rourke

    Drawing on their years of deep engagement with these issues, the respondents present very thoughtful comments on the role of consumers in influencing global markets. Despite a range of concerns, a consensus emerges among us that consumers can—and must—play some role in advancing more sustainable and equitable production.

    However, the respondents raise important questions about how consumers fit within broader strategies and how acts of individual consumption can be scaled to make a difference and potentially lead to even more transformative collective action. The respondents also rightly point to the need to oppose the worst forms of greenwash...

    (pp. 101-103)
  7. Back Matter
    (pp. 104-105)