9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN05 Sociology of Consumption

2009-09-04 13:30:00 2009-09-04 15:00:00 Friday, 4 September 13:30 - 15:00 Brands and Consumption Building II, C5.02

Building an ethically oriented consumption: children produced objects and critical consumption

The acquisition of consumer goods is not only a matter of satisfying material needs, but also a way to express the need for relationships and recognition, in short an act of production of meaning. This is particularly emphatic and explicit in the so-called ethically oriented consumption (e.g. fair trade), where the act of buying brings to a redefinition of the social meaning of the economic action.

But what products are suitable for such etically oriented consumption? In other words, what products can be associated with the adjective "ethical"?

The answer to this questions implies actions of sense making (production of meaning) shared by a group of individuals on the basis of criteria relating to the characteristics of products and production processes. Thereafter, certain characteristics are selected as preferred, leading to the acceptance or exclusion of products depending on the compliance with such criteria.

The paper aims at showing the process of selecting the features that make a product suitable for "ethical" consumption, in the specific case of products employing children labor force, starting from the consideration of the access path of objects produced by children in the circuit of fair trade.

The findings are based on the analysis of documents relating to the distribution in Italy of objects produced by the movement of child workers Nats (ninos y adolescentes trabajadores), and through qualitative interviews with members of organizations that support this movement.

The main result is that, in the context of fair trade, the discourse concerning production and distribution of objects produced by children finds its main source of meaning in the particular relationship of solidarity established between the members of the organizations and the movement of child workers Nats. This brings to a new evaluation of the possible ?ethical? dimension of child labor. In this context, the choice of criteria for the selection of ?ethical? products implies a continuous act of subversion and redefinition of mainstream frames (e.g. media) that define child labour as an unacceptable practice.