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Analysis

The Consumer Disconnect

What is the consumer disconnect?

It is simply that we as consumers are disconnected from the products we purchase – regarding who and how they are made. You might be a law student with an interest in human rights, you might be an arts student concerned by international development, or you might be a science student who cares about sustainability, but you all still go and buy a $5 t-shirt made in Bangladesh by a child working in dangerous, degrading and dirty conditions.

Personally, it means that when I’m watching TV and witness a horrific tale about child labour or get a notification from my BBC app about another sweatshop building collapsing; I truly care, but lack the ability to ACTIVELY care. This means that although I am appalled by these conditions and abhorrent human rights violations, I still go into a store and buy a product that was made by a person in a sweatshop, and support an industry that angers me and disregards what I believe is morally correct.

 I value ethical products, so why do I find it so difficult to avoid the consumer disconnect? Instead of putting my money where my mouth is, I disassociate my values when purchasing.

A recent global study by Accenture (ACN Media), revealed only a third of consumers consider sustainability with their purchases. In addition, “From Marketing to Mattering” a report commissioned by the United Nations, illustrates that two-thirds of CEOs admitted that their businesses were not doing enough to address sustainability challenges. This demonstrates dramatic differences in sentiment, purchasing and selling behaviour between consumers and producers.

So…does this show a lack of interest in the issue? Does our global society care less for others and more for themselves these days? Or is it just a lack of education?

Through my eyes, and through the eyes of 73% of the consumers questioned in the study, it is a lack of will on behalf of businesses to educate the people. They believe businesses are failing to take care of the planet, and society itself. Moreover, the study also showed that over 80% of CEOs believe that their company’s reputation for sustainability is important to consumers. Despite this other research shows that less than one-quarter of consumers report that they regularly seek information on the sustainability performance of the brands whose products they purchase.

Are business owners at fault for not educating the people? Or is it a deeply entrenched societal flaw? Is it the consumer’s fault for not questioning producers?

To further pursue this line of thought, I spoke with the current CEO of Oaktree Foundation, Chris Wallace, who mentioned the term “two-pronged approach”. One “prong” of this approach represents society, and at the other; those in powerful leadership positions. Chris believes that the people on either point of the “prong” are currently complacent and are allowing this issue to continue. By creating movements from either point, getting more CEOs to ACTIVELY care, and the consumers to demand sustainable products, he believes we can cause meaningful reform.

Moving forward, I know what I and other consumers need to do.

WE need to demonstrate more authenticity and consider sustainability and ethics at a grassroots level when consuming. WE have to place more pressure on companies to provide transparency and honesty to their customers about their products, and therefore place higher expectations on similar organisations to produce ethically sourced items.

In addition to this, another way to educate ourselves is through websites such as Shop Ethical. This website displays the products on the market that are sustainable, or support The Fashion Revolution organisation, which aims to start the discussion with manufacturers about “who made my clothes” by commenting on our favourite brands social media posts #whomademyclothes.

For now, we need to remember that with every item we buy, we are exercising our purchasing power – and thus we are casting our vote for the sort of world we want to live in.

Would you prefer to vote for a world that supports unethical practices such as child labour, or one that values and respects each human being?

Meghan Wright

The author Meghan Wright

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