How ethical are your favorite brands’ practices

August 11, 2020

By Claire Hegstrom

How ethical are your favorite brands’ practices

A woman's hands run a piece of fabric through a sewing machine that sits on a clothing factory table.

As consumers, we’re constantly inundated with new products and services promising to make our lives better. From the ads on your social media account that are so accurate it’s scary, to the shampoo aisle lined with 100 choices for you to ponder, you have a lot to digest! In the age of information, shoppers have incredible buying power to make purchases that align with their values and beliefs. Whether it’s your daily hand lotion or your winter jacket, you are voting with your money every time you shop.

So how do you decide which brands best encompass the values you’ve deemed as important? We’re diving into the pillars ethical brand practices are built upon, why brand ethics are important, and what these practices mean for you, and the rest of the world.

The importance behind brand ethics practices

Transparency is at the core of ethical branding.

Not only will ethical brands provide transparent information about their business, they’ll also use transparent language in all communications to customers. This results in simple, truthful language so that consumers can make informed buying decisions.

Ethical standards have an impact on regulations and societal expectations.

Standards practiced by large companies heavily influence government policies, federal regulations, and ethical product pricing. Because the economy relies heavily on big corporations, it can be difficult to get new regulations passed on ethical brand practices without acceptance from the biggest players in a given industry.

Normalizing ethical standards makes planet-healthy products more affordable.

Why is it more expensive to eat a fully organic diet, or to buy a yoga mat from a company devoted to natural rubber use? It’s because these companies pay their workers fair wages, they limit their shipping methods to cut back on carbon emissions, and overall, they use higher-quality materials. Until these practices are adopted by companies worldwide, they will always be competing against corporations that consistently cut corners in one of the three ethics pillars.

Ethical pillars to consider when buying

Before you can accurately judge which brands you feel comfortable supporting, you’ll want to decide which ethical topics are most important to you. Most brand sustainability practices are ranked by three key areas: people, planet, and animals.

The people pillar refers to the human and labor rights standards the company commits to. Are they transparent about their workplace conditions and worker safety regulations? What is the brand’s stance on child labor, or their employees’ freedom to unionize? If the company outsources any of their labor, you may want to seek out information on how often their overseas factories are inspected for the equal and fair treatment of their workers. Possibly one of the most important considerations is the fair payment of the laborers the company depends upon.

The planet pillar is usually the most obvious pillar used to judge the ethicality of brands, especially as environmental crisis awareness grows. For example, a pasta company just banned the use of plastic windows in their noodle boxes in an effort to lower their environmental impact drastically. Not only does this make their packaging 100% recyclable, but it also slashes their production cost by a pretty penny! 

Take a look at what resources are used in not only the product itself, but the packaging it’s encased in. Brands that are driven to reduced planet impact will commit to renewable energy sources, lowering their carbon footprint, and work to cut their water use. Favoring renewable energy can be seen in something as simple as skylight windows in factories and stores, and lowering emission footprints can be done by carbon offsetting company-sponsored flights.

Also consider how a brand protects our Earth’s water supply. What kinds of chemicals are being used in their production and sanitization? If chemicals are used to make garments, how do these chemicals impact water supply after being washed numerous times? Many big-brand companies with pristine reputations have been tarnished by secret chemical dumping from production plants. 

Animal rights should be examined for brands you might not even associate with living creatures. Animal testing may be the most problematic area to research when inquiring about your favorite companies, as brands often outsource their testing and research. Bunnies are beautiful without blush smudged on their cheeks, and many countries have banned animal testing completely. Another factor to consider is your stance on the use of fur or exotic animal skins in production. Many furs are not humanely sourced from animals such as alpacas, sheep, and rabbits.

Food production poses an additional consideration when it comes to the ethical treatment of animals. Some restaurants have committed to only sourcing free-range livestock, but be sure to read up on their practices of regularly evaluating their growing partners.

Three quick ways to check your favorite brands’ ethical practices

1. Use these helpful apps

Good On You is a mobile application that delivers everything you need to know about your favorite clothing brands’ ethical practices. Rating companies from “We Avoid” to “Great,” this app brings you important information they’ve uncovered about people, planet, and animal practices of hundreds of brands. Another great source is the Cruelty-free app which provides a list of wellness and cosmetic brands that are certified to be free from animal cruelty and testing.

2. Look for certifications on their packaging or website policy page

Common certifications to watch for include Fairtrade Foundation (commonly portrayed as an emblem on food and cotton clothing), Leaping Bunny certified emblems on cruelty-free cosmetics and beauty products, and Certified B-Corporation labels, which promise that the brand’s ethics benefit both people and the planet.

3. Email the brand directly

If a company looks great but doesn’t have a transparency or policy page on their website, it’s best to email the company directly to ask about their practices. Start by introducing yourself as a valued customer and share your concerns. Then dive into specific questions regarding their compliance with the practices you view as most important.

In the age of information, consumers can now be armed with the knowledge to make purchasing decisions that most accurately reflect their lifestyle and ideas. Making the world a better place is tricky, and it certainly takes time, but we hope this information empowers you to take steps toward a brighter tomorrow.

Claire Hegstrom is an advocate of the credit union movement through and through. Passionate about financial education, she approaches money conversations from a candid and inclusive space focused on growth and awareness. As our credit union founding father, Ed Filene, once said, “Progress is the constant replacing of the best there is with something still better.” Claire hopes reading Money Mentor will help transform your life from the best to even better.

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