Ananda Shakespeare, MEPRA Strategy Board Member and Founder of Shakespeare Communications, on the rise of ethical consumerism and why brands need to work with an ethical PR company.
On websites and print, we increasingly see phrases about products like ‘fair trade,’ ‘organic,’ and ‘cruelty-free.’
It feels like in the new millennium, everyone has developed an acute awareness of ethical consumerism, best described in simple terms as a form of social activism – or ‘voting with your wallet’ in which consumers buy from brands purporting to minimize their environmental or social impact.
From buying local, organically-produced food, avoiding high street fast fashion or ensuring no animals were harmed in the production process, there seems to have been something of a renaissance in ethical consumerism, which fills us with joy and optimism.
Skip back 25 years, and I was in university studying communications and environmental science with a subscription to Ethical Consumer magazine. Setting up environmental charities in my spare time, I felt strongly about what we were buying, why we were buying it and, crucially, how it was produced and where it came from.
Today, millions of millennials – led by the likes of vocal environmental activists Greta Thunberg, Alexandria Villaseñor, and Jerome Foster II – are demanding a more equitable world, which centers around a greater understanding of the environmental impact and holding governments and companies accountable for this impact.
Campaigns to end plastic waste, food waste, and textile mountains have gained mass followers and credence in recent times, and my days as something of a ‘lone wolf’ campaigner have now morphed into me feeling far more part of the pack.
Today, brands are (and should be) seeking more authentic representation and that means the comms professional must be the target audience where possible.
Social entrepreneurs are now gaining a foothold in the region. While there is still only one Certified B company in the UAE (the memorably-named Marmalade Fish), there are a number of companies quietly changing the world, one day at a time. Independent Thai street food restaurant and tea bar Café Isan is actively working to support the Thai diaspora and the wider community. Its latest venture is a unique, micro-franchise opportunity, aimed at creating business opportunities primarily for those who have lost their jobs during the pandemic.
Another contact of mine has started an ethical cleaning company where staff are treated with dignity and respect – including decent medical insurance and profits put back into their hands if they have a child that they are trying to put through college, for example. Homegrown brands like the House of Pops, vegan ice lollies, have sustainability of the heart of what they do, in their packaging and conception.
At Shakespeare Comms, we believe any brand that launches today without staff welfare and CSR at the core of its ethos is falling behind the times.
Ethical consumerism has had its ups and downs though, with one of the most recognizable names behind the movement – Tom’s Shoes – going into the hands of its creditors in 2019. This wasn’t so much because it is a bad business –people loved buying the company’s shoes, as it donated a pair to the needy for every pair sold – but rather, it was a one-trick pony. The lesson of Tom’s is two-fold: one, there is a need for, and understanding of, ethical products and companies with heart; but two, putting ethics ahead of profits – especially with just one hero product – still isn’t necessarily viable.
And while ethical companies may be widespread in the West, they are now becoming more apparent in the UAE and the region, with start-ups like Goshopia and Let’s Organic filling the ethical gap in the local market.
The green transport economy is also taking off in the region, with bicycles dotted around the UAE for people to use when needed at the tap of a credit card and car-sharing companies that can be used by the minute or hour.
We’ve noticed that small businesses with a sustainability raison d’etre are thriving in the UAE – and with great marketing can only be set to grow.
It’s gratifying to see a gentle wind of change sweeping across the region. We look forward to growing a portfolio of companies that we can work with, truly believing in their aims, vision, and mission. And if you are a company with a more ethical approach to business, doesn’t it make sense to work with other companies that share your values?
Ananda Shakespeare, Shakespeare Communications www.shakespearecomms.com