By Imam Dr. Omar Suleiman, Ethical Adviser
Ethical consumerism refers to the mindset of looking beyond the product at the process behind its production. The ethical consumer is concerned not only with whether the end-product is acceptable, but also with the entire process of production. Due to widespread mistreatment abuse in various industries, ethical consumerism is on the rise as more people become aware of the various injustices that occur behind the scenes.
The concept of ethical consumerism is an established part of Islamic Business Ethics. In various narrations, the Prophet (pbuh) warned against unethical business practices. The following three narrations focus on three primary aspects of ethical consumerism: treatment of animals, treatment of employees, and business transparency.
1. Treatment of animals
Shaddād bin Aws narrated that the Prophet (pbuh) said: “Indeed God has prescribed iḥsān (perfection) in everything. So, when you kill, then kill properly (without causing pain and suﬀering), and when you slaughter, then slaughtering well. Let one of you sharpen his blade and let him comfort his animal (before slaughtering).” (Tirmidhī 1409)
This narration is considered the primary evidence for the Islamic principles of iḥsān. Iḥsān refers to the concepts of doing everything in the best possible way. The narration focuses primarily on the treatment of animals but the principle of iḥsān applies to every aspect of our lives. Islam
requires us to treat animals in the best possible manner. Although the meat of a mistreated animal may still be permissible to consume, any act of oppression against an animal is considered sinful. Muslims involved in the food production industry must hold themselves to the highest standards of iḥsān which includes kind treatment of animals, and a painless quick slaughter.
2. Treatment of employees
Abū Dhar narrated that the Prophet (pbuh) said, “Your servants are your brothers and Allah has put them under your command. So, whoever has a brother under his command should feed him of what he eats and dress him of what he wears. Do not ask them to do things beyond their capacity (power) and if you do so, then help them.” (Bukhārī 30)
Fourteen centuries ago, many societies did not consider the rights of workers. Most workers were owned, abused, and mistreated. Islam established a bond of brotherhood between employers and their employees. Part of this brotherhood is the prohibition of mistreating one’s employees or overworking them. The Muslim trader in the twenty-ﬁrst century must adhere to these principles. A Muslim cannot be complacent about the oppression of people at any level in the production process.
Hakīm bin Hizām narrated that the Prophet (pbuh) said, “The seller and the buyer have the right to keep or return goods as long as they have not parted or until they part; and if both the parties spoke the truth and described the defects and qualities (of the goods), then they would be blessed in their transaction, and if they told lies or hid something, then the blessings of their transaction would be lost.” (Bukhārī 2079)
A fundamental principle of Islamic trade is total transparency. It is prohibited in Islam to ﬁnd defects, mislead customers, and deceive people. Such actions rob the transaction of any blessings and are considered sinful. In many cases, the transaction becomes void. Muslim businesses must hold themselves to this high standard of transparency. Customers have the right to know the truth about every aspect of production, especially if there is a fear of mistreatment or abuse. The fundamentals of ethical consumerism were clariﬁed by Islamic teachings fourteen centuries ago. Islam emphasizes kindness towards humans and animals alike, forbids all forms of oppression, and demands transparency in business. In that sense, true ethical consumerism is simply a facet of the revival of Islamic teachings about business.