Sustainable choices

Commerce and governance

Chile and Brazil are former developing countries which are now classified as middle-income but suffer from some of the highest levels of inequality in the world. Ethical Consumption movements such as the Fair Trade movement have shown that buying power can be used to channel money to the poorer people in these countries. Ethical consumption, i.e. a form of consumption in which consumers use their buying power to effect social and pro-environmental change is now widespread in income-rich countries, with the UK’s 36 billion-pound “ethical market” being particularly well-developed. This leverage can be even more powerfully used through public procurement, where the state buys goods and services in the name of taxpayers. Chile’s state procurement market is 8.6 billion, Brazil’s 55 billion USD. For this project, an interdisciplinary academic team based in 3 countries (UK, Chile, Brazil) collaborated with three campaign NGOs (one in each country) who are pioneers in the field of ethical consumption. The Chilean colleagues recently conducted the first exploratory study of the trend towards ethical consumption in Chile and the Brazilian colleague and the Brazilian NGO Instituto Akatu have studied the emergence of ethical consumption among Brazil’s growing middle class for over a decade. What is seen as ethical is negotiated differently in different societies. In order to use buying power as a lever in democracies, we explore what people locally see as “ethical” choices in their own buying decisions and what criteria they want the state to use when making purchasing decisions in their name.