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Thoughts about trying to shop ethically

Hey everybody! I hope you all are doing all right today.

I wondered how you guys feel about what the best way is to try to shop “ethically”—that is, trying not to do things like buy blood diamonds. I have read that the Kimberly Process, which is supposed to ensure that the diamond ring you buy at the store didn’t put money in a warlord’s pocket, is actually super flawed in a lot of ways. Plus, haven’t companies like De Beers essentially created a sort of false shortage by hoarding supplies, in order to boost demand? So, is there even an “ethical” way to buy a new diamond at all?

I am not trying to make this personal or to criticize anyone who loves diamonds or has a diamond ring (my grandma even bought me little diamond studs a few years ago, so I actually own two itty bitty diamonds myself). I don’t claim to have all the answers, because in certain industries, I have heard the argument made that boycotting just leaves laborers even worse off than before.


For example, we’re all familiar at this point with the abuses of the garment industry. Is it better to boycott certain brands entirely, or to keep buying them but to lobby for changes in policy? As a Westerner, I hear about people (especially children) working in conditions that are unsafe and brutal and it seems like a simple moral choice. But I have also heard arguments that factory labor is better paid than agricultural work, and that taking those jobs away is not truly helping anyone.

Finally, even if we can figure out the most ethical choice, I personally find it very difficult to give that priority when I am actually buying new clothes (which is not that often) or, more often, at the grocery store. I want to do the right thing for other people and for the environment, but when I am actually in the store, I am probably going to pick the cheapest possible option because that’s what I can afford!


This is such a thorny issue and I don’t think I have it figured out. I often feel disheartened when I think about all of the ways that attempts to “help” on the part of developed countries just make things worse in the global south. From the World Bank building a goddamned highway through the Amazon rain forest, to Toms shoes, at seems like acting like you know what’s best for another group of people never works out very well. I study international development so I know I’m oversimplifying stuff here, but I just wanted to hear all your perspectives on this topic. Love you all!

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