Taking Consumers Seriously: Two Concepts of Consumer Sovereignty

Michael Korthals
Publication Date: 
Governments, producers, and international free trade organizations like the World Trade Organization (WTO) are increasingly confronted with consumers who not only buy (or don't buy) goods, but also demand that those goods are produced conforming to certain ethical (often diverse) standards. Not only safety and health belong to these ethical ideals, but animal welfare, environmental concerns, labor circumstances, and fair trade. However, this phantom haunts the dusty world of social and political philosophy as well. The new concept "consumer sovereignty'' bypasses the conceptual dichotomy of consumer and citizen.
According to the narrow liberal response to this new constellation, with respect to food one should conceptualize consumer sovereignty as the right of the individual consumer to get information on food products and to make his or her own choice on the market of food products. In this conception, there is a very strong emphasis on rules and principles with respect to the autonomy of individuals.