Book Review: Ethical Chic

27 Jan

I’m finally finishing up a bunch of half-read books I have lying around! Hooray!

Last night, I finished reading Ethical Chic, by Fran Hawthorne. This book is all about those companies that we all think are “good” (Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, Apple) and how they score on various aspects of CSR (corporate social responsibility).

The book isn’t big, but it’s stuffed with information. Hawthorne focuses on six companies – those listed above, plus Tom’s of Maine, Timberland and American Apparel – and analyzes how they treat their employees, how environmental they are, whether they test on animals, if they contribute to their community, and talks about their marketing and their history of acting and promoting themselves as socially responsible.

These are mostly companies we’re all familiar with, although I certainly use the first three far more than the last three. It was almost overwhelming to think about all the different ways that a company can misbehave, because spoiler alert: none of them are perfect. And if we, as consumers, are expected to vote with our dollars, it seems that there is no right choice: hmmm, do I want to be implicitly responsible for chopping down the rainforest or for the horrible sweatshop conditions in Bangladesh?

Hawthorne occasionally goes so deeply into the weeds in her analysis of these companies that I found myself simply skimming, especially with those companies that I have less personal interest in. In general, I didn’t learn anything that was shocking, because I never imagined that any of these companies was the shining city on a hill they present themselves as (obviously Trader Joe’s is a giant corporation, not your friendly neighborhood store). However, I know a lot more now about what it is that even makes a company socially responsible, and she did a great job of walking the reader through her research.

I found the segments where she talks about companies marketing themselves as socially responsible to be particularly interesting, because we have progressed to a point as a society where this is a selling point, and could be enough to tip a person towards frequenting, say, Starbucks instead of Dunkin Donuts. I know the reason I choose Target over Walmart is a combination of classism and a negative report a friend wrote on working conditions at Walmart when we were in eighth grade. Hawthorne detracts some points for companies that have transitioned to more ethical ways of running their business due to consumer pressure, but I believe that overall, it’s a good thing that consumers care enough to pressure corporations in this way.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in business, real-world ethics, or consumerism, as well as anyone with a particular attachment to one of the companies featured.

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3 Responses to “Book Review: Ethical Chic”

  1. autumnkovachak February 1, 2015 at 7:38 pm #

    I started this book and did find it enlightening since business ethics was one of my favorite and fascinating classes. I’d like to read more books like these. You’re right, it is baffling how much large companies can get away with sometimes.

  2. Erin January 27, 2015 at 9:28 pm #

    Lol I still quote that Walmart report to people

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