Today you can find several market research surveys that will tell you consumers are ready for environmentally and socially ethical options. A recent one by the Sustainable Business Council in New Zealand reported that two-thirds of consumers would want to switch brands if they knew a company’s business was having negative impacts. While this new wave of consumer awareness is great for the environment, without internationally mandated standards for sustainability, many companies will attempt to confuse their customers with misleading labels or promises. This practice can already be found with the rampant use of the unregulated claim “all natural”, and now fruit conglomerate Dole has botched at attempt at launching an equally vague “ethical choice” claim.
Recently, Oxfam New Zealand issued a report claiming that Dole was employing underage workers in the Phillipines. Further, the workers were paid less than minimum wage and subjected to long work days. When a representative of the New Zealand government filed a complaint in order to investigate Dole’s new label, the company immediately dropped the program. While Dole claims that it stands behind its “ethical choice” claims, dropping the label the same day that the complaint was filed sends a clear message: Dole does not want consumers to know how exactly it defines “ethical”.
Dole’s debacle is a good example of why third party labels are so important. If companies are left to self-police, your shopping cart will only become more confusing when you are trying to make environmentally friendly choices. Certifications like Fair Trade or Organic are not perfect, but they are a far better indicator of what sort of product you are getting than anything “all natural” or “ethical choice” would tell you. Luckily, watch dogs like Oxfam and others exist to help clarify practices and help consumers make the best possible choices.