So many vegan products we consume are not truly ‘cruelty-free’. They still harm other animals, humans and the environment.
- Vegan chocolate produced using child slaves in West Africa
- Vegan T-shirts produced using sweatshop labour in the Global South
- Non-organic vegan foods, whole and processed, produced using conventional, industrial agriculture which degrades the soil, poisons free-living animals and the environment, destroys habitats, kills field animals such as mice and birds and is inherently unsustainable.
- Organic fruit and vegetables which uses by-products of animal agriculture like blood and bonemeal for manure, and much of which is not produced sustainably due to ploughing which degrades the soil.
If we want to work towards creating a world which is just for all, it is not enough to consider only the direct impacts of our consumption choices on other animals. We need to be more mindful about our direct and indirect impacts on other animals, humans and the environment.
Our consumption choices can legitimise or reject the global corporate capitalist economic system that causes so much harm to other animals, humans and the planet. As sociologist Dr Nicki Lisa Cole writes in the article How to Be an Ethical Consumer in Today's World:
“If unconscious consumption supports and reproduces the problematic status quo, then a critically conscious, ethical consumption can challenge it by supporting alternative economic, social, and political relations of production and consumption.”
There are now a plethora of certifications e.g. Fairtrade, Organic, Vegan, Cruelty-Free, Rainforest Alliance etc. and resources e.g. Ethical Consumer which can help us to be more ethical consumers.
However, ethical consumption can only take us so far. Our corporate capitalist economic system is inherently exploitative and destructive. All consumption within this system causes suffering in one form or another.
Simply buying a product that’s certified ‘Fairtrade’, ‘Organic’ or ‘Vegan’ in many cases helps to fund the same corporations that are responsible for so much injustice.
Ethical consumption is also not accessible to many since it requires investments of time, energy and money.
Reducing our veganism and ethics to individual consumer choices also reinforces the faulty belief that we can achieve real moral progress or political change by “voting” with our ethical vegan pounds. We can’t. And even if we could, those who are better off get more votes which is clearly unfair.
Many of the injustices we want to challenge require a structural change to overcome. Changes in laws, policies, institutions, the actual corporate capitalist system itself. Individual consumption choices are not enough to make these structural changes. We can’t consume our way to a more ethical world.
If we want to minimise the suffering we cause through our consumption choices and reject the corporate capitalist system we should really be consuming as little as possible. What we do consume should still be sourced as ethically as possible.
We believe that if we want to be producing and consuming as ethically as possible we should be focusing on setting up, working for and supporting independent ethical vegan businesses and other organisations which provide an alternative to corporate capitalist modes of production. Businesses and organisations like non-profits, democratically run workers’ co-operatives, social enterprises and collectives. We should be working to prefigure the society we want to see in the future. We believe this is what will help us to move from reformist to radical change and to contribute to actually changing the system.