How Ethical are Ethical Purchasing Policies?

Don Wells
Publication Date: 
In recent years ethical purchasing policies have been promoted as potentially effective and promising ways of combatting global inequality and oppressive labour practices in developing countries. These initiatives have been launched on university campuses with the hope of opening a new front for improving labour rights under conditions of neo-liberal globalization. This paper is an attempt to respond to the critics of these policies, and especially their claims that ethical purchasing may have the perverse effect of increasing job losses and undercutting economic development in poorer countries.
Although it can be shown that these criticisms are misguided, it is important to acknowledge that ethical purchasing should not be seen as a full-blown alternative to the kind of progress that can be achieved through state-centred labour regulation. Nevertheless, the new role of universities as monitors of corporate responsibility remains a promising one.