Ethical consumerism has been around for a long time—during the revolution, many Americans protested against the Stamp Act of 1756 by refusing to buy tea and other Brit- ish goods. In recent years, ethical consumerism has become an increasingly prominent feature of social life, as new forms of technology have allowed consumers to use their choices in the marketplace to address various environmental, labor and trade concerns.
Surprisingly, relatively little attention has been paid to the moral issues raised by ethical consumerism. Suppose that consumers are morally permitted to use their buying power to pressure companies to treat animals better or to reduce carbon emissions. Does this mean that they can also pressure pharmacies not to stock the “morning after” pill? Can they pressure Wal-Mart not to sell books or music that they find offensive? Even in cases where consumers are pressuring companies to do the right thing, do their actions amount to a kind of vigilante justice?