Sunday, April 25, 2021

The ethics of shopping in a pandemic

Interesting article in the Globe and Mail yesterday about the ethics of shopping during a pandemic

And it's not a simple thing. Many questions pop up almost every day, like: "Do I go to a store and put myself at risk, and potentially expose others to me?"; "Should I stay at home and order online, requiring other workers and delivery people to work on my behalf?"; "Is it wrong to order from mega-companies like Amazon that I know have poor protection for workers?"; "Should I only be buying things that are essential (and what does 'essential' even mean)?"; "Is it just being selfish to shop local?"; "Is there any point in taking a particular moral stance as an individual when millions of others are not even thinking about it, and when whatever good might flow from it may be offset by other concomitant evils?"

I remember at the start of the pandemic we were ordering all our food online for delivery or pick-up, until it was pointed out to me that there were people much less mobile than me who could not get delivery or pick-up spots (this was in the early days, before supermarkets honed their systems). So, I stopped ordering online and started shopping in person at smaller supermarkets whose distancing and sanitation systems I trusted.

Generally speaking, I try to avoid using Amazon where possible, having read many horror stories about how staff are treated, despite it being one of the world's richest companies owned by the world's richest man. But if I can't get hold of something any other way, I am not above using Amazon, even for nice-to-have items that are definitely not essential. So, my morals are definitely relative. And, anyway, all those Amazon warehouse and delivery workers are relying on people like me with disposable income for their jobs (such as they are), aren't they, to say nothing of those poor underpaid, over-worked labourers in Chinese factories. 

Like anything to do with ethics, none of the answers are easy or clear-cut. It's no surprise that ethics have been debated for literally millennia, and we are no closer to definitive answers than the ancient Greeks were. All we can do is at least think about what we do and how it affects others, and at least try to do the right thing. It will almost certainly be a compromise to some extent, but that's OK. If everyone were to compromise a bit, the world would probably be a better place than it is.

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