chapter  6
19 Pages

Consumption Ethics in History


A man joins his friends for a meeting. Most of them are wearing black hats. Some are wearing white hats. He is rather concerned to be the odd one out wearing, as he does, an undyed hat. Black hats are traditional among these friends, whereas the white hats are something of a new fashion. Our man is wearing an undyed hat because he knows the distress caused to workers involved in the clothes dying processes. Before purchasing this new hat, he has waited for his black dyed one to wear out. He worries that his friends will not be able to understand his choice but, as a tailor himself, he has compassion for those in the clothes industry. This is a readily recognisable story for anyone who studies or tries to practice ‘ethical consumption’: the compassion, compulsion, frugality and concern for friendship. This incident, however, was recorded in the journal of an American Quaker, John Woolman, 1 in 1762.