Chapter 9: Consumer politics, political consumption and fair trade
It seems as if Americans are shopping for more causes today than at any point in the nation’s history. They can buy cookies to support the Girl Scouts, lemonade and pink-ribbon-endorsed products to fund cancer research, cupcakes for neuroscience research, (RED) products to support AIDS relief and, of course, fair trade products to improve the living conditions of farmers and artisans living in developing countries. Americans are also participating in a wide range of boycotts of products, brands and even places. In recent years, prominent campaigns have been led in the United States against Fox News, Starbucks, Chick-fil-A, Israeli academic institutions, Walmart and Russian Vodkas. It is safe to say that the range of ongoing consumer boycotts in the United States is also at or near an all-time high. Both buycotting (shopping for a cause) and boycotting are examples of political or ethical consumption. This term does not mean that the product is necessarily produced in a socially responsible manner, or that the profits will be directed to a certain cause. It simply implies that the product possesses an attribute that some consumers will view as ethical (Glickman 2009). In this chapter I will sketch the historical roots of political consumption in the United States and argue that fair trade has been aided by an ‘ethical turn’ in markets where social responsibility has become a desirable product attribute.
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