Political shopping

A few weeks ago, the ACCC action Sinclair Davidson and Tim Wilson are taking against Fairtrade coffee sparked the lengthiest-ever debate at this blog. But how many people might be interested in getting some social justice with their coffee?

The ABS General Social Survey 2006, the first results from which were released this week, provides some answers. It found that, over the last twelve months, a quarter of those surveyed had ‘boycotted or deliberately bought products for political, ethical or environmental reasons’. The fashion-prone young were not the most likely to buy or not buy for these reasons; on all measures of activism including this one they were below average. It was the middle-aged 45-54 year olds who were the most socially aware consumers, with 30% taking political, ethical or environmental considerations into account.

The 2005 Australia Survey of Social Attitudes asked a very similar question, except that their time period was 2 years rather than 12 months. Doubling the time period also doubled the proportion taking these factors into account, suggesting that for some consumers political purchasing is a very occasional event, rather than an everyday one like coffee (or perhaps the Fairtrade coffee is so bad that once is enough).

The AuSSA lets us see what relationship this kind of consumer behaviour has with other characteristics. One initial hypothesis proved incorrect – peope who own shares in companies mix politics with the pursuit of profit, with 57% buying or boycotting for political, ethical or environmental reasons, compared to 47% of those who do not. The Liberal/Labor/ divide was in the expected direction, but not on the expected scale: 45%/51%.

We have to go further from the median voter than Liberal/Labor to get polarised behaviour. 84% of Greens are boycotters or environmental purchasers. On the 0-10 left-right scale, 77% of the top three left categories took their politics shopping with them, compared to 43% of the top three right categories (by refusing to buy Fairtrade coffee? French cheese and wine?).

This kind of buying behaviour is more common than I thought it might be, and big enough that business would need to keep it in mind.

4 thoughts on “Political shopping

  1. Andrew

    It would be nice to think that the young have less interest in “ethical” shopping gives some hope to those who prefer their shopping to have a more rational basis.

    But the more telling aspect might be the young have lower incomes than do the one in three 45-54 year olds who regularly boycott on ethical/political grounds.

    The ABS survey doesn’t appear to present this information by income.

    Being a right of centre 45-54 year old, I regularly boycott certain products on ethical grounds.

    I try to avoid “fair trade”, “organic” and “buy local” products as much as possible and regularly tell store managers and coffee shop proprietors I am not interested in these. Perhaps I should move to a less affluent suburb – as now both of my two nearest supermarkets stock only fairtrade and/or organic bananas, while my workplace cafe stocks only fairtrade coffee (which makes as much sense as stocking only “buddhist” or “catholic” coffee).


  2. I’m one of the minority of young people who engaged in political shopping.

    I took up smoking in protest against smoking bans imposed
    in bars in SA. Boy, did I show them. My smoke almost certainly crossed the 1m to the bar and was inhaled by the bar staff, thereby rendering their regulations ineffective. Mwaa-ha-ha-haaa.

    I’ve since given up (another reason to take it up was to see how hard it is to quit – not that hard, but harder than I thought), but having moved to more liberal London they are now imposing equally ridiculous smoking bans here. Fortunately, I am less engaged with politics here and don’t really care.


  3. Sorry James… but your attempt at attacking people with passive smoke probably failed. The increased risk of negative health consequences from passive smoke are small.

    I took up regular smoking during the 2004 ACT election campaign when I was a candidate in protest against the no-smoking-in-pubs law. It was hard. I can handle an occasional smoke fine… but regular smoking is a bitch. For me anyway.

    As for quitting smoking “quitting is easy… I’ve done it hundreds of times”. 🙂


  4. Thank you for this encouraging news Andrew. I was also cheered by just reading an article in The New Statesman:
    which has this:
    He believes this can help bring democracy to the market place. “It means giving people what they want – a chance to vote with their dollars. People can become policy-makers, spending their money on the future they want to see.”

    How empowering this ethical purchasing can be.
    A recommendation: if, like me, you consume a fair amount of chocolate, try Cocolo Premium Organic Dark Chocolate (its Fairtrade, Organic, throbbing with anti-oxidants etc). I manage to get through several blocks a week – we all have to do our bit to help ……


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