Unethical Consumption & Obligations to Signal

Ethics and International Affairs 29 (3):315-330 (2015)
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Abstract

Many of the items that humans consume are produced in ways that involve serious harms to persons. Familiar examples include the harms involved in the extraction and trade of conflict minerals (e.g. coltan, diamonds), the acquisition and import of non- fair trade produce (e.g. coffee, chocolate, bananas, rice), and the manufacture of goods in sweatshops (e.g. clothing, sporting equipment). In addition, consumption of certain goods (significantly fossil fuels and the products of the agricultural industry) involves harm to the environment, to future persons, and to current persons in low-lying and developing countries, by way of their impacts on climate change. When it comes to such large-scale harms, it's easy for the individual to feel helpless. Even if she sincerely wishes things were otherwise, she may wonder what she could possibly do to make them so. In this paper I briefly explore several promising avenues for generating duties in individuals to consume ethically, and develop one in particular: that an individual ought to signal her commitments to others, as a first step in collectivizing to act against unjust global labour practices.

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Holly Lawford-Smith
University of Melbourne

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