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Labeling Ethically: When "Green" Takes on a Different Tone

When Dole Food Company began labeling its bananas slated for New Zealand sales with stickers that read, "Ethical Choice," it attracted attention. The stickers were backed by a strong promotional push that gave customers the confidence that they were using their money to support a company with fair trade practices and a positive work environment.

 

Food Social Responsibility

Labels help consumers make decisions, and consumers can help create sustainable food systems with their checkbooks simply through their purchasing decisions. In a world where information is pumped out to the public on a daily basis, it's not always easy to keep track of what is actually going on. Therefore, conscious consumers often rely on messages delivered on packaging materials and advertisements to let them know they are making responsible purchasing decisions. When the claims on that packaging and in those advertisements don't match up with reality, it's called green washing.

 

Doling Out the Truth

Although the new labels on Dole's bananas may have been attracting consumers, they were also attracting scrutiny from the media and various organizations. In fact, an Oxfam New Zealand report published in May 2013 revealed that the company might not be as ethical as its new labels claimed. According to the report, Dole's workers in the Philippines were often underage, worked for less than minimum wage and experienced negative health effects from working around noxious chemicals.

 

Certifying Sustainable Food Systems

With so many consumers trying to support companies that are environmentally and socially conscious, a system has begun to spring into place to help them make purchasing decisions. The Fairtrade certification system has allowed smaller-scale farmers to join the growing global marketplace. Instead of being forced to accept low wages and unfair working conditions, farmers working through the Fairtrade system receive fair prices, making it possible for them to further enhance their quality of life. The Fairtrade system has allowed many communities of growers to secure better healthcare and education and ultimately make a quality living off of their work.

 

A Demand for Honesty

According to a 2012 "Better Business World" survey, 94 percent of the people living in New Zealand were irritated whenever a company performed any type of greenwashing. When consumers grab a product, thinking they are helping the world, only to find out they may be supporting a less than ethical business environment, they have a right to be annoyed. Creating food social responsibility can best be attained when consumers are aware of the facts behind their purchases.

 

Therefore, next time a product comes with a label stating a claim that makes you decide to buy it, you might want to consider doing a little research before making your final decision.

 

About the author

Melissa Page writes about farm fresh produce, conscious capitalism and sustainable food habits. Inspired by A to Z Solutions, she dreams of a more sustainable world, and believes that nutritional transparency is a big step towards that goal.