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With the end of Amazon’s charitable giving program, AmazonSmile, some people are feeling more uncomfortable buying from Amazon and are looking for ways to shop more ethically.
Via AmazonSmile, which ends in February. 20, Amazon donates 0.5% of eligible purchases to a charity of the buyer’s choice. The program has donated more than $449 million globally, but the average donation per charity last year was only about $230, according to Amazon.
Yet some organizations, especially small ones, say the money has made a huge difference to them. Many shoppers who use AmazonSmile have expressed their dismay on social media and shared the impact the program has had on the charities they support, with some threatening to stop shopping on Amazon and urging others to cancel their Prime subscriptions.
If you’re wondering how to shop more ethically, there are several principles you can follow, says David Weitzner, assistant professor of management at York University in Toronto.
What is ethical shopping?
“Individuals’ responses depend on their politics and other factors,” Weitzner says, but if you understand the business model and principles of the company correctly “and they align with your own values, I would consider that a ethical consumption”.
Above all, make sure you understand and accept how the company makes its money – from how it treats its employees and sources goods to how its business model affects the environment.
Beyond that, Weitzner says to prioritize the company’s reputation over its ranking on lists of the best ethical companies — some ranking lists require companies to pay to be on them. Then look at what the company is doing now, not what it promises to do in the future. Finally, shop at companies that value human relationships over efficiency.
Beyond doing our own research as buyers, we need to trust our instincts, says Weitzner. If you regularly go to a store and “your gut tells you it’s an ethical place to shop,” that’s a good sign, he says.
Based on these principles, here are some ideas for places where you can make your next purchases. This is not an exhaustive list, but rather resources for customers looking for Amazon alternatives.
Where to start
Ethical Consumer is an organization that studies the ethical and environmental issues of companies, from energy to fashion to food. Its guides will not only tell you the track record of specific brands, but also what to look for and what to avoid when shopping, making it easier for you to make informed decisions even if you don’t have researched a specific brand before encountering it in the store.
If your primary concern is charitable giving rather than purchases, CharityWatch is a nonprofit watchdog that provides insight into the effectiveness, accountability, governance, and fundraising of charities. If you decide to cancel your Amazon Prime subscription due to the end of AmazonSmile, this can help you decide where to put that extra cash.
Good on You bills itself as the “world’s leading source of fashion brand reviews” and its site rates fashion brands based on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to help consumers understand whether fashion brands are as environmentally friendly as they claim. The scores incorporate factors such as greenhouse gas emissions, water use, and worker safety and wages.
However, buying second-hand clothes – and swapping or reselling items you no longer need or want – is the best way to avoid the ethical and environmental costs of the fashion industry. Check out ThredUp, Poshmark, Depop, and other resale and thrift stores and sites.
Food waste is incredibly harmful to the environment and your wallet.
To shop more sustainably, check out Imperfect Foods, which delivers groceries that are irregular in size or shape, with cosmetic imperfections, or just surplus items that would otherwise go to waste.
You can also download Too Good To Go, an app that allows users to buy leftover food from grocery stores and restaurants at a reduced price. What’s in the bag you get is a surprise, based on what’s left when the business closes, but it’s a great way to avoid food waste and try something new on the cheap.
If you love buying books and want to find companies that treat their workers well and are sustainable, you can find sellers on Ethical Revolution’s Amazon Alternatives website, which has a bookseller finder.
Buying second-hand books can keep junk out of landfills, and buying from local independent stores helps ensure authors are paid fairly. If you want to find an independent bookstore near you, you can search IndieBound.
Thriftbooks is an independent online bookstore that offers accurately quality-rated used books and partners with nonprofits to offer literacy programs, though its products appear on Amazon and other suppliers. Better World Books sells new and used books and supports literacy projects.