The Complete Guide to Ethical Shopping in 2020


The Complete Guide to Ethical Shopping in 2020
Artsy former industrial area, Telliskivi Creative City in Tallinn, Estonia

Want to shop more ethically?

Tired of giving money to corporations that don’t share your values?

Want to sleep better at night by not supporting the evil company of the day?

Good for you! You’re one of the dozens of people who care about ethical shopping.

Just kidding!

Ethical consumerism means conscious buying to create a positive impact on society.

Read on to learn more about ethical shopping in 2020!

Table of Contents

  1. Who Shops Ethically in 2020?
  2. Why is Ethical Shopping Important in 2020?
  3. What is Ethical Shopping?
  4. 80/20 Ethical Shopping
  5. Why Should You Shop Ethically?
  6. How to Shop Ethically?
  7. Conclusion

Who Shops Ethically in 2020?

66% of consumers say they’re willing to spend more on products made by companies that aren’t run by Lex Luthor.

And that number is rising thankfully.

More and more people like you are looking for ethically-made goods.

They do their homework to find out which companies aren’t just angling for their next private jet.

They come from all walks of life and care about the world around them for a variety of reasons.

Their motivation can be a response to climate change and increasing air pollution.

Or because it seems like a few mega companies make nearly everything you see in stores.

Ethical shoppers exercise their right to affect change according to their personal values.

There’s no perfect way to do it.

But supporting companies that view the world as a community and not an exploitable resource is a good starting point.

Why is Ethical Shopping Important in 2020?

Believe it or not, only 6.5% of businesses in the US have over 500 employees.

So why does it seem like the only brands available hoard water like a mad max villain?

The answer lies in conglomerates, or freaks of nature of the business world.

They have production chains that span the globe.

They absorb smaller companies and land like amoebas. All the while limiting your choices as a consumer and polluting more than a small country.

Not to mention planned obsolescence, which is why your smartphone gets really slow after 2 years.

They control most of the retail channels and are masters at lowering quality and quantity, while increasing prices.

Yeah, they’re good at what they do and the invisible hand should appear any moment to knock them down a peg.

But even Adam Smith knew that companies needed to be regulated by a higher power:

“The interest of the dealers [referring to stock owners, manufacturers, and merchants], however, in any particular branch of trade or manufacture, is always in some respects different from, and even opposite to, that of the public.  To widen the market and to narrow the competition, is always the interest of the dealers.  To widen the market may frequently be agreeable enough to the interest of the public; but to narrow the competition must always be against it, and can serve only to enable the dealers, by raising their profits above what they naturally would be, to levy, for their own benefit, and absurd tax upon the rest of their fellow-citizens.”

(Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations (Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 1991), pages 219-220)

Yeah, I just quoted Adam Smith, deal with it.

But wait, there’s more:

“This monopoly has so much increased the number of some particular tribes of [manufacturers], that, like an overgrown standing army, they have become formidable to the government, and upon many occasions intimidate the legislature.  The member of parliament who supports every proposal for strengthening this monopoly, is sure to acquire not only the reputation of understanding trade, but great popularity and influence with an order of men whose numbers and wealth render them of great importance.  If he opposes them, on the contrary, and still more if he has authority enough to be able to thwart them, neither the most acknowledged probity, nor the highest rank, nor the greatest public services, can protect him from the most infamous abuse and destruction, from personal insults, nor sometimes from real danger, arising from the insolent outrage of furious and disappointed monopolists.”

(Smith, Wealth of Nations, page 368)

TL;DR companies can run amok if left unchecked.

Since Teddy Roosevelt isn’t around this time to clean house, we have to step up.

Conglomerates are very powerful now, and that power comes from us.

Like the episode of the Simpsons where ads become sentient and start attacking the town. They’ll go away if we stop paying attention to them.

The country may be divided, but we can all agree on which companies make the naughty list every year.

Everyone votes with their wallet. So why choose conglomerates that do more harm than good?

Ethical shopping is the way to lower their control.

So what is ethical shopping and how can we find ethical businesses to give money to?

What is Ethical Shopping?

Craftswoman and her daughter we met in Peru
Craftswoman and her daughter we met in Peru

As many an edgy teen has said, “there’s no ethical consumption under capitalism”.

This may be true, but it’s no reason to feel helpless.

For better or worse, capitalism got us this far, and isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

So we have to work with what we have.

Surprisingly, there’s no exact definition of what ethical shopping is.

In the simplest terms, it’s “shopping that results in a net positive for society”.

This means avoiding conglomerates, dictatorships and other bad faith actors.

In other words, “shopping with a conscience”.

Ask yourself, if a certain brand was a person, would you let them babysit your kids, or watch your pet? Would you invite them to Thanksgiving dinner? Would you want them to be mayor of your town?

If you hesitated for a moment, then it’s probably not a brand you want to empower.

80/20 Ethical Shopping

I set out with the intention of creating a positive online environment where people could share ways to make the world a better place.

As I researched topics from the environment to animal cruelty, I kept running into the same word.


Namely the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the companies that give their profits to them, both domestic and foreign.

Not the people of course. They’re great.

I grew up with Chinese friends. Most are just trying to get by like the rest of us.

Their country has a fascinating history. I’ve also been fortunate enough to have traveled in the region.

But in my lifetime, I’ve watched China go from plucky underdog to supervillain.

I didn’t choose China as a topic, it chose itself.

The CCP is involved in not only destabilizing democracy, but also violating human rights, destroying the environment and even mandatory testing on animals (And we can’t entirely blame them, since they’re manufacturing products for us).

After much research, it became clear that the easiest way to shop ethically is to boycott not only Chinese products, but also companies that outsource there.

Because they don’t just offshore manufacturing, they also outsource pollution, animal testing and human rights violations.

Yes, there are plenty of evil institutions in the world.

Even my government has done things I’m not proud of.

But whataboutism will never get us anywhere. And the scale and scope of damage China is doing is on another level.

As a consumer, we have the power to change this.

The 80/20 rule or Pareto principle states that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

This rule applies almost perfectly to this situation. Avoiding things made in China will cover most of the bases.

While I have your attention, you might want to avoid Amazon too. Specifically, because they list tons of products from China and don’t delist knockoffs, among other activities.

Not everything is manufactured in China, and we can reverse this trend by creating demand for products made domestically.

We may never bring down the CCP, but we can limit their power, and make them change their behavior.

Why Should You Shop Ethically?

Hot sand fried snack in Inle Lake, Myanmar
Delicious sand baked snack in Inle Lake, Myanmar

It’s pretty nice living in a developed country. Water on tap. Electricity at your fingertips.

Schools foster critical thinking and creativity, among other things.

Systems are in place.

Best of all, we can outsource pollution, animal cruelty and worker exploitation to poorer countries.

Just so we can buy cheaper products.

Out of sight, out of mind.

And we can blame it all on evil corporations.

They are but a reflection of our desires.

You didn’t choose your country of origin. And you shouldn’t feel guilty about winning the genetic lottery or being born in a nice place.

But you can choose to make things better for everyone.

You may never meet the mica miner who collects the minerals for your car batteries and hair dryers.

But you will be exposed to the pollution that blows back from the lack of regulations in the developing countries where your products are made.

You will deal with the decrease in political freedom in the world from giving money to dictatorships.

And most importantly, you’ll spend more because the cheap plastic products you buy break quickly.

It’s like they say, it’s expensive to be poor.

Buy a 20 dollar pair of shoes and you need to replace them in a few months. Buy a 100 dollar pair and they’ll last years. Not to mention the physical toll of wearing low-quality footwear.

You vote every day whether you like it or not. Because supporting unethical companies has ways of coming back to haunt you.

How to Shop Ethically?

Local tea shop in Tallinn, Estonia
Local tea shop in Tallinn, Estonia. Independently owned and offers more locally sourced tea leaves.

If you boycotted 100% of all companies that don’t share your values, you’d have to move to a commune.

Or learn how to sew and farm on your windowsill.

But buying less from corporate riff raff would make a dent.

It’s even sweeter when you find alternative products that are higher-quality and cheaper in the long-run. Bonus points if you show your friends.

So don’t feel bad about buying a product from Lexcorp once in a while. It’s hard not to.

Improvement, not perfection is the goal.

The following steps may seem overkill, but they’re the best way to improve your chances of shopping ethically.

Step 1. Look at the label

Step 2. Search the parent company

Step 3. See who owns them

Step 4. Check the news

Step 5. Check the wikipedia page

In the Grocery Store

Look down

Independent brands are often found on lower shelves, so it’s a good idea to start by looking there.

Ad space

If you saw it in a TV commercial, don’t buy it.

TV ads mean huge marketing budgets and less money for product quality. There are plenty of smaller companies that can offer better value if you know where to look.

Double this for superbowl ads.

Godaddy for example, has been consistently associated with the big game. And as we’ve found, their service is not worth their price. Other hosting services are cheaper and better.

Also as a side note, I’ve found that the more touching a superbowl ad is, the more horrible the company is that paid for it.

Say no to mascots

If there is a cartoon character selling it, don’t buy it.

Yeah, I loved them as a kid. But now their headquarters wouldn’t be out of place in the Death Star.

And they sell cheap sugar and fat that will cost you loads on healthcare down the road.

In the Clothing Store

Shop locally

Avoid multi-nationals all together. Support your neighbors when possible. They probably care more about your community than a conglomerate.

Thrift shop

They don’t make em like they used to. Buying second hand goods is great in every way. Pre-loved clothing can be more stylish and cheaper than alternatives.

Look out for these major charity organizations in your city:

Take inventory

Most people already have everything they need in their garage or closet. In fact, women only use 40% of the clothes in their wardrobe.

Checking before shopping not only saves money but helps you find hidden gems you already own.

In General

Make a list

By simply getting organized, you can reduce your consumption. The most ethical shopping is none at all.

Google has a pretty good shopping app that helps you go paperless.

Beware online

Online shopping is great. You can do it in your pajamas. But a lot of goods are made by child or sweatshop labor in developing countries.

Check the country of origin of products before adding them to your cart and opt for ones made domestically.

Diamonds are diamonds

Most of you probably know this, but diamonds are not scarce. And there’s no such thing as a conflict-free diamond. No one can keep track of their origin since they’re resold multiple times.

So just buy synthetic. They’re actually better quality than ones extracted with human suffering.

Do your homework

A quick scan of a label can tell you a lot about a brand.

Watch out for synthetics like polyester and nylon that take centuries to biodegrade.

Also avoiding goods made in developing countries without fair trade agreements can filter out most of the trouble-makers.

This certification is the most reputable one.

Swap with friends

If you have something you aren’t using, consider giving it to a friend, in a non-condescending way of course.

I wear my friend’s clothes all the time, especially when they’re left at my house.

Or if your friends are too fancy, give them to charity.

Boycott China

Pretty easy to spot, but hard to avoid.

Doing this alone will check a lot of boxes.

Buy off-brand

Look for brands that don’t have a legal team.

They’re often cheaper since they don’t spend millions of dollars on marketing.

Do something else

Don’t buy something until you absolutely need it.

Go on a hike, pick up a hobby or call a friend. You’ll feel a lot better in the long run.


Restaurant run by Eritrean Australian Women & Family Support Network Inc
Restaurant run by Eritrean Women in Australia & Family Support Network Inc. They help African refugees by providing training and employment opportunities.

The way you consume has consequences that span the globe.

You may not be able to control what politicians do or a neighbor tap dancing on your ceiling at 2am, but you can control how you shop.

Shopping ethically is challenging, but worth it.

You can save money, lower pollution and take power away from bad apples in one fell swoop.

Best of all, you’ll sleep better knowing you did your part.

Find out more ways to shop better!


Leave a Comment