5 Unethical Things You Thought Were Harmless
Everyone wants to do the right thing, right? We don’t always know what the right thing is but we try at least. Sometimes though things we may think are harmless turn out to be not quite as harmless as they sound. The bad things in life tend to be good at presenting themselves as innocuous, so in the interests of ethical living we’re here to pull the cover off of 5 common ones.
Free range eggs
So we all heard about the ethical quandaries about eating meat, but what about eggs? Those chickens are just going to be making those eggs anyway, so as long as we can prevent the hens from getting their eggs fertilized and the chickens live a nice life on a free range farm, why is it a problem?
Well, for starters, “preventing the hens from getting their eggs fertilized” is a little darker in practice than you’d think. No, they don't raise the hens and the roosters separately. No, they don’t sterilize the roosters. The issue is that egg breeding chickens and meat chickens are two different species, so the meat of a male egg-laying chicken is too tough to sell for food. But it’s not like we can somehow make the chickens only hatch female. So what happens to all the male chicks? I’ll give you a hint, there’s no farm upstate where they go to roam free (especially seeing as they’re already on a farm).
Well, so maybe the male chick’s life is brief and violent, but at least the hens go on to live a happy life, right? Right? First of all the average wild chicken produces 20 eggs a year, but the average egg laying chicken produces 300. As you can imagine, this is not terribly healthy. Second, these chickens often get their beaks trimmed, a procedure usually done without anesthetics. Beaks are sensory organs so we know this causes temporary pain, but it may cause chronic pain as well. The thing is, these free range farms need to do this procedure to keep the hens from pecking at each other in their close quarter confinement. But wait, you ask, why would that be necessary in a free range farm then? Behold, the glory of free range egg farming. As it turns out, technically having access to outside and not being in a cage doesn’t change a whole lot for the chicken.
Okay so maybe free range eggs are a bit of a scam. But at least no other animal products are out there that sound totally harmless but end up being really cruel, right? Well, as it turns out, that wool sweater isn’t exactly the made by giving the sheep a nice simple hair cut. The first main issue is volume, like with most other mass production operations out there. So yes, on a small family farm each sheep may just be getting a close haircut, but on a factory farm where the shearer needs to sheer two hundred sheep in a day, and gets paid in the volume of wool sheared, the results are not pretty. From large skin wounds from the shearing blades to shearers literally beating the sheep into submission, large scale sheep shearing operations don’t really have the sheep’s well being in mind. And while it’s true that due to selective breeding, if you don’t shear a sheep the results are ridiculous looking wool monsters that are almost certainly uncomfortable, I doubt most sheep would rather be treated like the loser in a WWE match.
Speaking of selective breeding, that excess wool production leads to another issue. Sheep make that extra wool because their skin has been bred to be wrinkled, which makes it susceptible to parasites. One particularly nasty and fatal parasitic infection called flystrike is caused when flies lay eggs in the soiled wool and the skin folds around the sheep’s rear. While there are multiple methods for dealing with this, including regular (and hopefully humane) shearing of the region, treatments to kill off the flies, and selective breeding to raise sheep with reduced risk of flystrike, there is a disturbingly common practice in the wool industry called Museling. To state it plainly, the flies can’t lay eggs in the folds of the skin if there is just a mass of scar tissue back there, so sheep farmers simply cut off a large portion of the skin. Sometimes without even bothering to use anesthetics. As you can imagine, this procedure is not popular with animal rights activists, and probably also the sheep.
Quite a Few Charities
Charities are kind of a complex issue. No one wants to give their money away and not see that money go to help people. In the past few years, big name charities have run into issues, like Susan G Komen’s disastrous and quickly reversed decision to cut funding to Planned Parenthood, and the American Red Cross’s shady funding scandals. But sometimes even the charities not making headlines have very serious issues with them. Always look up a guide like Charity Navigator before giving anywhere, but here are some common things to avoid:
- Any charity calling you. The issue here isn’t that the charity isn’t legit, as many of the larger name yet still good charities do call people. The issue is that these charities are calling so many people that they hire out telemarketing companies to make the phone calls for them. Often then you basically end up simply covering the telemarketer fees.
- Most Every Police and Firefighter Charity. To be honest with you, quite a few of these are simply fake. And the ones that aren’t fake are often poorly rates. Now, there are a few good ones out there, but it’s usually just safer to give directly to your local stations.
- Voluntourism. This is the practice of people from western countries visiting places in the global south to volunteer. Oftentimes these are less about helping people abroad and more about making money and making a volunteer feel good. A hoard of volunteers with no construction experience descending on a community to help build a library for two weeks steals jobs from local construction workers while building a bad library. Some volunteer work abroad can be good, just as always, be careful.
This next one is less about what to think twice about where to put your money and more of a warning for the youngins looking to start a creative career, especially in the age of the internet. Whether you're a graphic designer, a video editor, or a copywriter, you’ve probably seen some sort of contest out there that looks perfect for you. A big name corporation, one that could easily hire any designer or video editor in the business, is on the hunt for bright new talent that could bring youthful creative fire to their brand. So they’re holding a contest to find that talent. Simply design their newest logo or write their newest add, and if yours is the best one they’ll feature it, give you a large cash prize, and give you a chance to meet some of the most important people in the industry. What could be better for someone completely new to the industry?
Just being hired for a job like any other skilled worker in any other industry, for one.
These types of contests, collectively called speculation work, are unethical because if a company has the resources at their disposal to hire a designer or a video editor, they should hire them. Imagine if you went into plumbing. After two years at trade school to earn your skills, instead of becoming a journeyman plumber you entered a plumber contest. You and a hundred others just out of trade school are tasked to fix every sink in a skyscraper, but only the person who fixed their sink “the best” would get paid. Asking hundreds, maybe in thousands of graphic designers or copywriters to do a complete job for free in hopes of maybe getting paid is a really bad deal for the young creative field workers, and an obvious abuse of power by the large corporation. And that’s even if the company holds up their end of the bargain, because spec work is notorious for abusive practices. Often they involve the contestants signing over the rights to their creations even if their creations aren’t selected as winners, and there have even been cases of companies changing one or two things about a “losing” design and running that as their own without paying the designer. In short, while it is extremely difficult to break into a career in any creative field, know that these contests large corporations run are often simply predatory practices they do to cut costs.
The Sharing Economy
Also known as the gig economy, everyone is loving the convenience of the sharing economy these days. Uber is super convenient with a slick app that tracks your driver, and AirBnB is fantastic for frequent travelers as well as people looking to make a few extra dollars. Why would this marvel of the internet age be a problem, it just seems like progress, right?
The issue here is that it really isn't progress for the workers. At all. Basically, the reason these companies can cut rates so much isn’t because they’re new and streamlined, but because the cost of the business has been pushed onto the workers. An Uber driver isn’t getting holidays, isn’t getting sick days, is paying their own health insurance, is paying their own car maintenance fees, and so on.There’s also the issue of skirting protections and regulation laws. Landlords are kicking out tenants to make their apartments into pseudo-hotels, and uber doesn’t seem to be doing thorough enough background checks. Whereas a full time employee has a clear contract, a Taskrabbit worker can apparently receive a massive pay cut out of nowhere along with a complete change in everything regarding the job as Taskrabbit shifts business models without telling anyone. At the end of the day, the gig economy seems to be less about revolutionizing the way people work and more of an excuse for companies to cut costs by avoiding hiring full time workers, even if that worker is putting in full time hours.
They say that the greatest trick the devil ever pulled off was convincing the world he didn’t exist. Pay attention, do your research, and think before you act. The unethical side of society is very skilled at hiding or pretending to be better than it is, so always be weary of what you support.