This article was originally posted on TheGuardian.com and appears in full under the Open Licence terms.
Customers are demanding transparency as they take an increasing interest in the ethical practices of those they buy from
The general election is a matter of weeks away and every vote is to play for. But what if we could vote every day? In some ways we already do: every time we spend our cash we are making an active choice about the companies we support and the practices we endorse. Today, when corporations can be more influential than entire states, where we put our pounds is where the power lies.
The problem is the world of business can be opaque and supply chains are murky, so it is difficult to confidently make an informed choice.
Consider this: the retail manufacturing industry is the second most polluting industry on earth, second only to oil. According to Annie Leonard, an expert in overconsumption, only 1% of the materials used to produce our consumer goods are still in use six months after sale. Somewhere, the value of craftsmanship and of provenance has been lost. Price and speed are trumping value.
However, the tide is turning. Increasing awareness around these issues has led to a rise in what is known as conscious consumption, a movement of people who seek out ways to make positive decisions about what to buy and look for a solution to the negative impact consumerism is having on our world.
This is a growing tribe: a third of UK consumers claim to be very concerned about issues regarding the origin of products. A study from YouGov and the Global Poverty Project revealed that 74% of those surveyed would pay an extra 5% for their clothes if there was a guarantee workers were being paid fairly and working in safe conditions. If you’re thinking that 5% doesn’t sound like a lot, consider the fact that the fashion industry could take a staggering 125 million people out of poverty by adding only 1% of its profits to workers’ wages.
Issues such as equal pay, environmentally conscious manufacturing processes, prevention of counterfeit goods, human trafficking, responsible farming practices and overproduction of goods are all at the forefront of consumers’ minds when making these choices.
Greenwashing and a token CSR [corporate social responsibility] marketing campaign are no longer enough. In an increasingly open, digital world where authenticity is the buzzword of choice, businesses must keep up with growing demands for ethical behaviour and transparency in everything from employee rights and gender discrimination to the supply chain.
In studying for my PhD, I researched product supply chain transparency in depth, looking at technologies to improve information about products and the global network of people and resources that fuel them.
I believe technology is the key to dealing with the challenges created by consumerism. Open data, social networks and mobile tech can change the game. Groundbreaking technologies could enable transparency in supply chains, which is why this year I have embarked on turning my findings into a social enterprise to empower businesses to take steps to being open.
I strongly believe that information about supply chains, about materials and processes can be an inspiring part of a brand and product’s story. We are at the start of a long journey but if we are going to tackle the huge impact our current production levels are having on the world, we must begin by understanding where our products come from.
So if you’re deciding who you want to run the country, take time to think about the votes you place every day and the impact they might have on the world.
Jessi Baker is the founder of social enterprise, Provenance.