The Ethical Disconnect of Retailers and Shoppers


Disturbing Disconnect in Minds of Retailers and Shoppers Alike

This week, I happened upon a number of stores. As I did so, I perceived a near ubiquitous, disturbing disconnect in the minds of retailers and shoppers alike at all locations. It is one indicative of a systemic deficiency deserving of a very swift and pressing remedy, which I will offer at the end of this story.

On entering a mom-and-pop watch retail shop, honestly thinking that I might actually buy a new watch, I noticed that many brands were represented.

Lowest Ethical-Footprint Rating

As I browsed the watches, inevitably a salesperson asked if she could help me. I asked her “Which watch has the lowest ethical-footprint rating?”

She naturally asked me to repeat the question, since, as I was the first customer she had ever met who had asked anything like it.

I had to explain that, for me, I was just interested in making the most ethical purchase. She needed further clarification as to what ethical-footprint ratings were. After a little explanation about carbon footprint ratings and slavery footprint ratings, she came to understand what it was that I was looking for; however, to our mutual disappointment it seemed, she had no idea which might be the most ethical purchase.

Specialized in Sports Jerseys

After leaving the watch shop, I then went to a sports retail store. I was looking for shoes, but didn’t see any. And so I asked if they had any shoes. They said they didn’t. They said they specialized in sports jerseys (hockey jerseys specifically), and pointed to the wall.

Upon the wall were jerseys, with the names and numbers of various players on them, from various teams. One player’s name stood out.

Then, considering my recent focus on ethical-footprint ratings in my capacity as blogger and writer, a thought occurred to me.

How would I feel if my name were on such jerseys knowing a certain number of slaves, children, or workers being paid less than a dollar a day had been involved the production process?

Would I feel good getting millions for simply signing a piece of paper authorizing a corporation to have my name printed on such jerseys knowing that people earning less than a dollar a day were the ones doing the actual work?

Would I Feel Good?

Would I feel good receiving that money if I knew laboring to produce the paint used in printing my name on those jerseys were enslaved children?

How much money would it take for me to not to care one way or the other about such children, I wondered. Sadly, I had to admit to myself that if I were getting as much money as other players might be getting, I might turn a blind eye too.

But in my present circumstances, I wasn’t signing a contract for millions of dollars simply for a corporation to have my name printed on a team’s jerseys. I was the one who was going to have to pay money not get it. And so in this respect, wouldn’t it be much easier for me to decide not to buy it than for another player to decide against signing a multi-million-dollar endorsement contract?

That being said, I really wanted the jersey.

Facts and Analysis

Conflicted, I thought I might just go home and do some research myself. I wish I had an opportunity to go online right then and there. Also, I figured I would have to do many hours of digging through news media and academic essays for facts and analysis that probably wouldn’t be available.

As such, I naturally just asked the guys at the store if the shirt was guaranteed to have been produced ethically. All three of the salespeople assumed that the shirt must have been produced ethically, since it was a ‘real’ brand name jersey.

They assumed the corporation would have ensured ethical production through the entire process through the whole supply chain from resource extraction through to distribution and retail. They based their assumption on the belief that even the player himself would have ensured that people at the corporation had themselves ensured the jersey had been produced ethically.

The Ethical Production

They expressed the notion that there were layers upon layers of protection built into the system that surely must have ensured the ethical production of the jersey, and, therefore, that I should buy it.

Their argument sounded good. I wanted to believe in my favorite player. By all accounts, he’s a great guy! I also wanted to believe in the corporation and their ethics. I really wanted to buy the jersey and proudly wear corporation’s name and the player’s name on my person and go to the team’s hockey game with my friends and have a grand old time.

But something just didn’t sit right. I realized they hadn’t really answered my question. I flatly asked the salespeople if there would be a certificate of guarantee stating to the effect that the product had in fact been made ethically. They said there would be no such guarantee included.

I asked how I might go ahead and get some sort of official assurance that the product had in fact been made ethically. They could only refer me to their head office. I thanked them for their time, took the card with the retail outlet’s head office’s number and left the store.

Across the mall’s promenade, I noticed there was another sports retail outlet, recalled that I had initially wanted to get some new shoes with good ankle support, and that that was my main reason for coming to the mall in the first place. So I made my way over there.

The Lowest Ethical Footprint

The shop was virtually empty of customers, and so immediately a nice saleslady came up to me and offered some help. I told her what I was looking for and she took me over to where the cross-trainers and basketball shoes were – an entire wall of different types and brands to choose from.

I then asked her, as you might be guessing by now, which brand and type of shoe had the lowest ethical footprint.

Like the salespeople in the other stores, after some explaining, she came to understand what I was asking, even though, again, just like the saleslady in the mom-and-pop watch shop, no one had ever asked her such a question like that before.

Also, again just like the other salespeople, she eventually said she couldn’t help me and referred me to their head office with a card and long-distance phone number for me to call.

To my chagrin, I decided I would have to go home and make some phone calls, do countless hours of research just so as to make a single purchase.

Instead, I was resolved to write articles like this one, recount my experiences on YouTube, and perhaps even make a documentary video about this ongoing process of simply being frustrated in my attempt to not incur a negative ethical footprint by my shopping.

An idea that came to mind for the focus of a documentary of the process of discovering whether or not it would even be possible for me to know one way or the other as to whether or not I might incur a negative or positive bump in my ethical footprint by any single purchase I might make. Is it really impossible for us to know one way or the other with any degree of certainty whether our ethical footprint rises or lowers with any given purchase?

Corporation for Information and Support

I decided I would focus the documentary on one, single product like a t-shirt or a single can of food. I tried to find information online about any single product, but it was to no avail. In order to unpack any product’s probably ethical footprint through its entire supply chain, it was clear that I would need to contact the producing corporation for information and support.

This is where I am at – trying to find a corporation out there who would help me unpack the probable ethical impacts of its products through a single products entire supply chain from resource extraction to retail.

Unsurprisingly, I am still waiting for call backs. If any company agrees to help me, in exchange, they can be the focus of the upcoming documentary in question, a documentary which might even lead to a TV sitcom with each episode focusing on unpacking the ethical footprint of a single product through an analysis of its entire supply chain.

The show would nevertheless present the corporation in a good light, because, after all, it is clearly helping in unpacking the ethical impacts of its products. This in and of itself is worthy of praise, regardless of the actual impact determined. It is hoped that the TV show might be so successful that it attracts sponsorship by the very products whose ethical impacts are being uncovered and that those products are found to have positive impacts rather than negative.

Corporate Social Responsibility

In the meanwhile before this would be TV sitcom is produced, the swift remedy I promised I would recount at the beginning of this article would be for the corporations from resource extraction to retailers, who I assume have access to information about their own supply chains, to come up with ethical footprint or CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) ratings on their own, and for charts of such to be made available to customers as they shop.

It is hoped that the process by which companies would create their own ethical footprint or CSR charts should be monitored by independent non-governmental, governmental, and industry specific knowledge-focused and ethics-focused auditors.