Ethical consumerism is hard - it requires one to be very well informed about all the companies with which one might transact, and such information is rife with embellishments and half-truths. But one rule of thumb I have come to adopt is 'go with the little guy' let me explain:
In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, smaller companies tend to be more ethically sound - a world replete with a diversity of small, specialised businesses would be better than one ruled over by a handful of gargantuan multinational corporations. So, all else being equal, choose the smaller of the two businesses to grace with your custom. The world will generally be a better place for it.
- Try to buy your food from butchers, grocers, bakers, rather than supermarkets.
- Try visiting independent cafes rather than the Starbucks/Nero/Ben+Gerry's/McDonald's style chains.
Specific reasons why big corps are bad:
- They tend to have a centralising effect on revenue streams - they pay the local staff worse while directing most of the cash back to HQ: investors, overpaid execs and slimy marketing types. Investing in a local business is investing in the local area and local population.
- Large corporations tend to have their fingers in many pies - even if the arm of the company you are dealing with is impeccably ethical, your money will most likely underwrite atrocities committed by another division.
- Large corporations are almost all run for the benefit of shareholders - the execs are *duty bound* to do nothing which might harm share dividends and are therefore powerless to do anything good - and in many cases can't even prevent the corporation from pursuing actively destructive policies for fear of reducing dividends. Henry Ford was successfully sued by the shareholders of Ford Motor co. for trying to give his factory floor workers an 'overly generous' pay rise(!)
- Large corporations listen less to customers: a well written letter or a carefully placed word with the right member of staff can often times shape the actions of a small business.
- Small companies tend to be run by, and employ people, who know - and are often passionately interested in - their business. You are likely to get better service when buying a guitar from someone who is interested in guitars per se, rather than from someone who is only interested in guitars to the extent that such an interest can inflate their corporate stock value.