Nicole Hassoun reflects on political activism in her second book, “Global Health Impact: Extending Access to Essential Medicines.”
A philosophy professor has examined ethical consumerism and its impacts in her new book, “Global Health Impact: Extending Access to Essential Medicines.”
Nicole Hassoun, co-director of the Institut Justice et Bien-être and professor of philosophy, studies ethical consumption and its impact on global health. “Ethical consumerism” is a type of political activism based on the belief that when customers buy a product, they are also buying into the system that produces it, according to Development Education, an online resource focused on modern inequalities. By mass buying one product over another, customers can promote or oppose certain labor or environmental practices. As a result, companies are modifying their products to suit consumer ideals – for example, some products are now labeled as non-GMO or sweatshop-free.
Hassoun said much of the responsibility lies with the consumer when trying to decide which products to buy.
“If we lack the institutions that are going to help us solve these problems – because obviously they haven’t all been solved and our governments often fail to solve them – then maybe we leave it up to the consumers,” Hassoun said. “It behooves us to try to drive positive change forward.”
Ethical consumerism has a long history, according to Development Education. In the late 1700s, many people began petitioning the British government for better working conditions in factories. In 1802, the Factory and Health and Morals Act was passed. It was arguably the first major social justice movement of modern times. In its modern form, however, ethical consumption began to take hold in the 1950s and 1960s, with fair trade initiatives and the hippie movement. People have started to become more aware of the widespread impacts of their purchases.
Tzvi Salzberg, a graduate in philosophy, shared her perspective on the benefits of ethical consumerism.
“I think it has a big role to play in shaping the behavior that you would like to see, but overall I think there needs to be some additional structural or regulatory changes as well as some sort of individual ethical consumption. “Salzberg said.
In his book, Hassoun explains his belief that there should be a global public health label that pharmaceutical companies can put on their over-the-counter products, underscoring their commitment to expanding access to lifesaving medicines in developing countries. Hassoun believes these widespread labels will provide billions of dollars in incentives for companies to improve access to essential medicines. In this system, consumers can determine which companies are saving lives with their medicines.
Jessica O’Keefe, a double major in English and philosophy, politics and law, said she thinks such a global initiative could be effective.
“Hopefully with the long-term encouragement of this label and other types of labels like this, we can gradually begin to support products and companies that align with our values and try to create a better future for all,” O’Keefe said. “We can then weed out the most malicious business practices or capitalist techniques.”
Charles Goodman, director of the philosophy, politics and law program, commented on Hassoun’s work, saying that raising awareness about unethical drinking can promote active change among consumers.
“When today’s ethical consumers realize that by simply choosing certain consumer products, they can help provide the world’s poor with access to the medicines they need, at least some of them are likely to change what they buy, so companies will have a reason to improve their policies,” Goodman wrote in an email. “As a result, more children will be able to grow up healthy, and more adults will be able to work and develop their own solutions to the problems facing them and their societies.”
Ethics tends to have many gray areas, according to Development Education. Some practices tend to be universally considered unethical. However, some practices are not as universally considered ethical or unethical, such as bicycling to school rather than driving. Therefore, Hassoun explained that ethical consumption is an imperfect system.
In light of some of its flaws, Hassoun still believes that ethical consumption can be a major tool that can be used to promote change.
“At the end of the day, we have to make decisions that will make things better,” Hassoun said. “And it may be ironic that the best way to help people gain bargaining power is to exercise our own purchasing power.”