Globalising Middle-class Ethical Consumption


When we think of ethical consumption it tends to be focused on ethical consumers in the Global North, buying fairly traded items from producers in the Global South. The ‘developed world’ purchasing from the ‘developing’. The same goes for the way we talk about and study ethical consumption when we define ‘ethics’ from a Western viewpoint

In actuality, there are different iterations of ethical and fair trade consumption going on across the world. In Bangladesh, which has a growing middle-class of more than 30 million people, a well-known chain/department store called Aarong states on it’s website that it “is dedicated to bring about positive changes in the lives of disadvantaged artisans and underprivileged rural women”. An Aarong store wouldn’t look out of place on Oxford Street, but they are selling to the increasingly rich Bangladeshi market instead, stocking fairly traded goods from domestic suppliers. What they don’t do, in contrast to Western fair trade brands, is shout about it. Aarong is an example of consumption with ethical effects not ethical consumption as a route for political action.

Other countries, including India, South Africa and China, are raising awareness of their domestic producers in order to sell to the middle-classes. Jakarta Fashion Week is being held in Indonesia until 30th October. They have only been running their own fashion week since 2008 yet it is now the most influential fashion week in South East Asia. Despite showcasing the best designers from the region, many of the supporting events are being hosted by British and America journalists, filmmakers and fashion industry professionals. Of these, there is a real focus on ethical fashion for 2015.

Jakarta cityscape

Firstly, the British Fashion Council are hosting a sustainable fashion talk today, with journalist Lucy Siegle and British fashion designers Odette Steele and Nelly Rose Stewart discussing environmentally-friendly materials and techniques for fashion production. Then, Indonesia's Ministry of Industry will present a special fashion show, titled "Beginning Ethical Fashion," with a focus on domestic designers who all practise ethical production methods such as Merdi Sihombing and Friderich Herman. And finally, as part of the fashion week, there will be a special screening of award winning documentary we’ve been raving about "The True Cost" by US filmmaker Andrew Morgan. All of this shows that the move towards a better fashion industry is global, and that we can learn from one another.

The other way to look at it is the fact that there are people working in sweatshop conditions in the UK and U.S. too. Yes our building regulations might be tighter, but there are still people working long hours for low pay, sometimes living illegally in the country to do so. There’s human trafficking, discrimination, forced labour. We are not exempt from these issues in the UK.

Ethical fair trade consumption then, is a global issue and not the Global South juxtaposed against the West. We must remember that there are multiple definitions of ‘ethics’, all equally valid.

Emma Waight
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