This paper seeks to unravel the possibilities, likelihood and future of ethical consumption. In order to answer the question ‘Can consumption ever be ethical?’ the definition of ethical consumerism must be deconstructed and operationalized. Ethics is the human measurement of morale, a philosophical framework through which human value can be measured and assessed. Consumption is an interactive process of buy and sell and it is therefore necessary to define which human activities in this process are under ethical assessment and in turn the defining ethical philosophy which will be used to theoretically underpin the difference between moral and amoral human action. This analysis will briefly consider both the structural process of mass consumption, the acts of the corporations involved in the production process and the individual’s ability to purchase ethically within this social framework.
Consumption is vastly becoming the ‘defining phenomena of human life and societies, the sociology of consumption emerged in Britain in the 1980’s alongside a rapidly expanding material culture (Marshall, 1998:133).The lexical denotation of the singular word ‘consumption’ is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as; the act of using up a resource, the action of eating and drinking and the purchase of goods and services by the public (Oxford English Dictionary, 2012). The fundamental, basic process of human consumption has being a sustained element of the human life cycle for thousands of years. The ethical distribution of resources needed in order to fulfil a healthy, happy and long life can quite easily be met, the Earth by nature has enough natural resources to feed, clothe and shelter its inhabitants. The majority of texts published today on the topic of consumption are actually referring to the social and ecological problems of ‘over consumption’. It is important to draw a definitive line between the two as it is evident the overwhelming process of ‘over consumption’ dominating the Western World cannot be ethically sustained (Brown, 2008).
If as Mackie (1977) states ‘There are no objective values’ then how do people collectively arrive at consensus as to what is right? What is moral? And consequently what is ethical? The empirical validation of a substantial, universal system of ethical ground has caused much debate in the world of philosophy. Moral scepticism, denies the existence of an objective moral value system. However, irrespective of subjective invalidity humankind relies upon the foundation of a working and realised moral reasoning. In the more traditional standings of Kantian, post-Kantian and English moral philosophy the good of humankind and end goal of human life depends upon a template of basic and primary universal human purposes (Mackie, 1977). With the conscious attempt to cast singularly theological doctrines of ethic aside, the processes of consumption considered in this essay will be measured against a combination of points drawn upon in ‘The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights’. This publication declares that, human beings have the right to be free from fear and want, act in the the promotion of friendly development between nations, should act to towards one another with a sense of brotherhood and states that no one should be subject to interference with his privacy in the home, family or correspondence. The original list consists of another 24 articles, yet the four entries listed above have being selected for the specific focus and relevance of this essay (Blackburn, 2001:136-143). Human action which corresponds with these guidelines will be defined as ‘ethical’ and any breach or inference of the human rights listed above will be typified as ‘unethical’.
The Uk’s consumption patterns have become incredibly out of control, with levels of dependence and ecological debt travelling far beyond the borders of this nation. If the whole planet