It’s time for the next installment in the Jargon Watch series! This time, I’m focusing on the ethical treatment of people and animals. There’s some overlap with the eco-friendly terms (because, of course, what happens to the planet affects people), but this time we’ll be looking at the terms with a humane lens. Without further ado, let’s break down these 5 common ethical terms and certifications.
1. Certified B Corps
This was on the eco-terms list and I’ve mentioned it in many other posts as well. B Corps are so cool y’all. B Corps status is a third-party certification that scores a company on social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability. This means that they don’t just prioritize profits, they also consider ethical concerns and environmental impact. You can go directly to the B Corps website to see how a company scores on Workers and Community, which will allow you to determine whether or not a company treats these stakeholders with respect. It’s important to note that a company can have B Corps certification without being the most ethical if they have high marks in the other categories, so definitely take a look at the company’s Impact Area Scores on https://bcorporation.net/
2. Cruelty Free
Cruelty-free products are those that are not tested on animals, which is often (some might argue, always) harmful and painful to the animals. I highly recommend Peter Singer’s book Animal Liberation if you want to learn more about animal cruelty in cosmetics/beauty products, but only if you don’t mind some graphic details. There are a number of third-party certifications that verify that companies don’t test on animals, including Leaping Bunny, Beauty Without Bunnies (by PETA), and Choose Cruelty Free.
One big issue with cruelty-free labeling on products is that, according to PETA, “no specific laws exist regarding ‘cruelty-free’ or ‘no animal testing’ labeling of products.” However, many of the companies that certify whether products are cruelty free charge a fee for using their logo on product packaging. So if a product says “cruelty free” but doesn’t have a logo, it could either be lying/taking advantage of the lack of regulation, OR it could actually be certified cruelty-free but unable or not wanting to pay for the logo. This puts all the responsibility on the consumer to find out for themselves if a product is humanely made, which is frustrating to me. *shakes fist at bureaucracy*
Another repeat from the environmentalism terms. In terms of ethics, vegan is similar to cruelty free as they both have to do with animal welfare. However, while cruelty free has to do with animal testing, vegan covers animal-derived ingredients. In some cases, it may seem that animals are not actively harmed in the production of animal-derived ingredients. For example, milking a cow does not necessarily harm it and taking honey from bees inflicts no pain on the bees. In the case of dairy products (derivatives of which can be found in skin and hair care products), the intensive farming of these animals can be very harmful to them. Again, Animal Liberation is a great resource for more on this. Looking for vegan on a label is a great way to ensure that no ingredients contain animal products, since it can be hard to know based on chemical names alone.
4. Fair Trade
If you’re like me, you probably know that fair trade has something to do with being more ethical, but you might not know all the details. If so, don’t worry – I’ve done the research for us. As a blanket term, fair trade means that the producers of an item (often a farmer or artisan in a developing country) are paid a fair price for their work. Beyond that, certain certifications also ensure that the whole community is uplifted. “Fair Trade ensures consumers that the products they purchase were grown, harvested, crafted and traded in ways that improve lives and protect the environment.” (Fair Trade Campaigns)
There are quite a few fair trade certifications available, including Fair TradeUSA, Fairtrade America, IMO Fair for Life, Fair Trade Federation, and the World Fair Trade Organization. As an example, IMO Fair for Life certified companies commit to fair pricing policies, respect for human life, decent working conditions, respect for the environment, local development based on community needs, and providing workers democratic representation in negotiations.
Shout out to my sister for turning me onto social enterprises. A social enterprise is a company that’s primary function is directly tied to a social program. From Investopedia, “A social enterprise or social business is defined as a business that has specific social objectives that serve its primary purpose. Social enterprises seek to maximize profits while maximizing benefits to society and the environment.”
One example of a social enterprise is Homeboy Industries in LA. Started by Jesuit priest Fr. Gregory Boyle, Homeboy (and Homegirl offshoots) offers jobs to individuals who were formerly in gangs or imprisoned, offering them opportunities to rehabilitate and start anew. Another example is Alaffia, a company I’ve talked about before on this blog. Alaffia supports women in Togo by providing them jobs with fair wages, maternal care, and education programs while creating products with sustainable ingredients.
Social enterprise is not a specific certification like fair trade, however, in my opinion a social enterprise goes deeper than a fair trade certified business since it’s at the core of the company’s mission. Luckily, it’s not an either-or situation, though. Like Alaffia, a company can be both a social enterprise AND use fair trade certified ingredients!
Let me know what you think!
Have you heard of these terms before? Do you think these certifications are good for companies? Is the cost for certifications too high and exclusionary for smaller businesses? Let me know in the comments below or on Instagram!