Ethical Consumer Manifesto

Ethical Consumer Manifesto for Change

 

Ethical consumerism is about more than life-style choices - it is also about challenging corporate power and improving government regulation. It's about being an activist at the checkout but also in the home, the work place and the community.

In 2001, we drew up a detailed manifesto of policy recommendations to the UK Government, covering a broad range of topics from tax avoidance to animal welfare, reflecting the broad research that we carry out and the issues we feel most passionately about.

The manifesto was composed of pragmatic demands and proposals from campaign groups, think tanks, industry, individuals and from ECRA itself. 

 

It is a pragmatic manifesto based on change which can be realistically be brought about in the current political environment. Don't mistake this outline for the longer-term ideals we aspire to.

We look for a society where the environment is respected, where human rights are properly protected and animals are no longer cruelly exploited.

We look beyond government control of the way we live and how companies act, believing real power should lie in the hands of individuals and communities. 

A world like this would require truly radical changes and we see this manifesto as merely the first step along that road.

 

 

Summary of 10 key demands:

 

  • A Responsible Purchasing Act requiring all public sector institutions to take stated ethical issues into account when making procurement decisions.
  • Compulsory annual social and environmental reporting by all businesses.
  • Socially responsible consumption, and its history and diversity, should be required learning as part of the core curriculum.
  • A 'Tobin Tax' on international currency speculation.
  • A Europe-wide toxics release inventory accessible from an open access website on the US model.
  • Mandatory carbon-footprint labelling and A-E energy consumption labelling on all products.
  • Any company group with subsidiary companies located in specified tax havens should be refused permission to trade.
  • Higher minimum standards for farm animal welfare for both home-produced and imported animal products.
  • Companies should be required to report annually on the ratio between their highest and lowest paid workers.

 

 

Manifesto in Full

 

Many pieces of government action recommended here may be better addressed at EU or international level, although we have not explicitly stated this in every case. Whatever the appropriate level, the UK Government can still enthusiastically press for their adoption on the international stage.

Our proposals are divided into five sections:


1. Government purchasing
2. Information
3. Tax
4. Regulation
5. Controlling corporate power

 


1. Government Purchasing

 

By government purchasing we mean all public sector institutions including national governments, the civil service, local and regional governments, quangos and public sector providers like educational institutions, health and social services.

At ECRA we believe that introducing social and environmental issues into government purchasing decisions should be a priority.

There are six main reasons for this.

1) The general public will ignore any government attempts to encourage responsible purchasing more widely if it is clear that governments are not themselves already acting on their own advice.

2) Powerful institutions with large budgets can persuade companies to address ethical issues very quickly.

3) Research carried out by governments on which products, processes or companies to favour can be placed in the public domain to inform consumers and private sector buyers.

4) Government purchasing can stimulate markets and lower prices for innovative ethical and environmental products like solar cells or alternative fuels

5) The requirement for consultation (see below) may encourage interest and participation in the political process

6) It is likely to be economically inefficient for society to absorb social and environmental costs after the event. For example, it may be better for public sector organisations to buy exclusively renewable energy now, rather than pay for the costs of addressing climate change later on.

 

We believe that the best way to take this forward in the first instance would be a Public Sector Responsible Purchasing Act. Many of governmental institutions are currently cautious and uncertain about the legality of ethical purchasing.

The Act should specifically address the 1988 Local Government Act (s17), the EU requirements for 'Best Value', and the WTO Treaty on public procurement and clarify or amend them in such a way that none of these hamper the introduction of ethical purchasing policies...on the condition that:

a) the policies seek to help achieve nationally agreed goals (such as renewable energy use targets) or existing treaties (such as the ILO convention), OR

b) the institution's stakeholders have been consulted and can be shown to support such a move.

The Act should also reserve the right for the government to require public sector bodies to meet targets for responsible purchasing yet to be set.

 




2. Information

 

Consumers are hampered in their ability to purchase ethically by the lack of information on which to base decisions. There are four main areas where governments can act to help improve the flow of information: labelling, disclosure, publishing and education.

 

2.1 Labelling

 

Clearly the ideal place for information to appear is on the product itself. But not everything which it is in the public interest to know is going to physically fit on a product. A lot more can be done though.

i) Country of origin

All products should list a minimum of one and a maximum of three main countries of origin (by materials weight).

ii) Ingredients labelling
The successful labelling scheme for food ingredients should be extended to all products. All products and packaging from TVs to footwear should be required to carry a list of their ten main ingredients by weight in descending order of importance.

iii) Energy labelling
The successful mandatory EU energy labelling scheme on an A to E scale for some domestic appliances should be extended to all products which consumer energy in use - from cars to watches. In ten years time this should be extended to provide, in addition, data on energy consumed during manufacture (embodied energy).

iv) Retailer own-brands
With the honourable exception of Co-op supermarkets, consumers in the UK are hampered in their ability to trace a product's history through the proliferation of retailer (particularly supermarket) own-brands. Retailer own-brands should be required to carry a code number which refers to the manufacturing/producing company's name listed on the retailers own website.

v) e-commerce
Our research on web retailers has discovered that many are not providing 'point of sale' access to information which it is currently mandatory to label (such as food ingredients, energy labels for domestic appliances or country of origin). Web retailers should be required to provide active links to mandatory product label data for all products sold on a site.

vi) Regulation of ethical claims
A tripartite body - modelled on the NGO/Industry/Government partnership that is the ETI - should be set up to advise on regulating ethical claims. Building on the excellent work of the National Consumer Council on regulating green claims, the new body would seek at an early stage to address misleading use of the word organic/s by some producers and the misleading use of some 'not tested on animals' labels.

 

 

2.2 Disclosure

 

At ECRA we believe that companies of the future should be as open and transparent as some of our better governments are now.

i) Right to know
The doctrine of 'commercial confidentiality' should be abandoned and replaced by a presumption of openness or a 'right to know'. Only when a company can demonstrate that no competitor could reasonably access the information in question, and that a substantial loss would be reasonably expected to occur, can it refuse to address reasonable requests for data. An ombudsman for corporate disclosure might provide adjudication for disputes.

ii) Social and Environmental Reports
Companies of all sizes should be obliged to report on progress made in addressing social and environmental impacts in their annual financial reports made to Companies House. Larger companies should be encouraged (see Tax incentives below) to publish separate, independently-audited, annual, social & environmental reports on their websites. Each report should set a minimum of 5 measurable targets for improvement and provide figures for progress made in the previous year. Such reporting for larger companies should be made mandatory.

iii) The Financial Sector
All financial sector companies - including banks, pensions funds and insurance companies - should provide a schedule listing all shareholdings worth over £1 million held on the first day of the financial year in their annual reports to Companies House.

The successful requirement on pension funds to disclose whether or not they have an ethical policy should be extended to all financial institutions.

Banks should disclose individual bank lending in underinvested communities.

For pensions and savings advice to be deemed 'best advice' under the law, clients should be asked about ethical issues.

iv) Directors' Pay
As well as disclosing directors' pay (as UK companies are currently required to do), they should also disclose the lowest 10 pay grades for staff and subcontractors. A ratio of highest to lowest should also be calculated and published.

 

 

2.3 Publishing

 

The government should become a researcher and publisher of primary information which rates companies and products against social and environmental issues. The current Labour government has already 'named and shamed' certain sectors using league tables, but this could be significantly expanded.

Specifically, we would like to see:

i) A toxics release inventory for Europe. Modelled on the US Toxics Release Inventory, this web-accessible database should place in the public domain all emissions consent, release, and enforcement data.

ii) Government-backed environmental performance indicators, accessible online, and containing information on companies and their products.

 

 

2.4 Education

 

1) Socially responsible consumption, and its history and diversity, should be required learning as part of the core curriculum.

ii) The UK should have a Minister for Outgoing Tourism to educate the public and to take responsibility for the social and environmental impact of tourists abroad.

 

 

 


3. Tax

 

We have split fiscal mechanisms which encourage ethical consumer behaviour into two types: correcting distortions in the market, and rewarding socially responsible behaviour.

 

3.1 Correcting distortions in the Market

 

So many consumer 'choices' - such as whether to use a car or public transport for a journey - are so constrained by the circumstances under which the choices are made that it is difficult to say that it is simply a case of many people behaving unethically.

i) A carbon or energy tax
will ensure that high energy products, or products which have travelled long distances, are relatively more expensive. This will make it easier for consumers to afford more environmentally benign products.

ii) Balanced transport taxation
Choosing to travel by air or car often appears significantly 'cheaper' to consumers because of road subsidies and energy pricing. Aviation fuel should be taxed at the same rate as road fuel and public transport should receive at least an equivalent subsidy to other modes of transport.

iii) A pollution tax
Full social and environmental costs of the emission, discharge or landfill of specific substances should be recovered from producers through the tax mechanism.

iv) Import Duty
All outstanding import duties on externally-verified fairly traded produce should be immediately lifted.

(v) Animal Testing
The EU requirement that all new substances be tested on animals should be lifted, and not extended as planned. Companies should however remain responsible for any damage caused by unsafe products. There should be regulation of 'not-tested-on-animals' claims (see labelling above).

vi) Renewables Research
Government-funded research into renewable forms of energy may go some way to addressing the concern that the fossil fuel industry is less than enthusiastic about its own renewable research and development programmes.

 

 

3.2 Rewarding Socially Responsible Behaviour

 

i) Ethical Investment
All income from funds meeting certain minimum standards for:
a) exclusionary criteria (should include at least 4 environmental and 4 social), AND
b) quality of screening and service should be taxed at a rate of 2% lower than the current rate.

ii) Social Investment
Tax credits or tax breaks should be available for investment in community development banks, community loan funds, micro loan funds, community venture capital and community businesses and co-operatives. The UK Social Investment Forum is already making progress with the UK government over some of these issues.

iii) Responsible Corporations
At ECRA we are keen, in the short term, on reviving the idea of R-corps - or Responsible Corporations - once aired under the Clinton administration. The idea involves reducing corporation tax for corporations meeting certain social and environmental reporting standards. An enlarged government department for corporate social responsibility could provide advice.

iv) Producer incentives
This would include such things as special tax breaks for renewable energy providers and financial incentives for organic conversion.

v) Energy Incentives
It should be made financially rewarding for homes with wind or solar generators to export surplus electricity to the network.

 

 

 

4. Regulation

 

Regulatory mechanisms still have an important role to play in restricting market extremes. It is, after all, difficult to argue that a consumer's right to choose should extend to products that seriously damage the wider public interest (such as CFCs in aerosols).

This section could, of course, be much larger, and these four sections can simply serve as an example of the kind of goals that are within easy reach.

i) Minimum standards for appliances

There should be minimum energy and water use standards for all relevant domestic and industrial appliances. The least efficient models should be phased out.

ii) Minimum standards for buildings
There should be higher minimum environmental standards for energy conservation (and generation) in new houses and other new buildings.

iii) Minimum standards for animal welfare
Higher welfare standards should be sought for both home-produced and imported animal products.

iv) Producer responsibility
Producers should be made financially responsible for the disposal and/or recycling of both products and packaging at the end of a product's life. We note the progress in Europe on this issue.

v) Recycling
There should be a requirement for local authorities to implement a national doorstep recycling scheme on the German model. Companies manufacturing products containing certain materials should be obliged to label the percentage of recycled content.

 


 

5. Controlling Corporate Power

 

One of the primary causes of the growth of ethical consumer behaviour has been the globalisation of markets and the rise of 'unelected' multinational corporations. Many global companies are now financially more significant than the economies of small countries, and national governments now find it increasingly difficult to regulate in a global market. 

It is therefore difficult to put together a set of legislative proposals which threaten corporate interests with much confidence that their political power will not prevent changes of this kind occurring. Because of this we need to look, in the long term, at structural ways of addressing the change in distribution of power that has occurred.

Perhaps a first step for the current government would be to acknowledge that the growth of 'corporate power' is an issue that needs to be addressed.
We have divided our proposals for curtailing corporate power into four sections:- discourse, incorporation, disclosure, and international institutions.

 

 

5.1 Discourse

 

It is difficult for societies to publicly debate the role of corporations because so much 'public space' is controlled by corporations which are, naturally, unenthusiastic about the debate itself.

i) A 'right to reply' to TV advertising
Currently, campaign groups like Friends of the Earth or Greenepeace are prevented by law from buying TV advertising space in the same way as Nuclear Electric or BP.

Whilst we explicitly do not want to open up the medium to any political advertising on the US model, the absence of a right to reply to specific product-related issues creates huge cultural bias in favour of the corporate voice. Adverts addressing the need to consume, or the cruelty of factory-farmed produce, should all find space on our TV screens.

ii) Reform of libel laws
There are two current suggestions: first, that the position whereby governments cannot sue their critics for libel be extended to corporations. Alternatively, a new offence of 'corporate libel' could be created with a maximum fine of £1000 to be assessed by a Corporate Social Responsibility tribunal with fixed costs for a hearing not exceeding £500.

iii) Advertising restrictions
All advertising or marketing directed at children under 12 should be banned. A number of central public spaces should be declared advertising-free zones. Sponsorship of schools or materials or products for schools should be phased out.

iv) Shareholder Actions
The rights of shareholders to raise issues at AGMs should be strengthened by lowering the threshold for resolutions. We note and applaud the recommendations in the current Company Law Review to require free distribution of resolutions with AGM papers.

 

 

5.2 Incorporation and Company Law

 

i) Directors' Responsibilities
ECRA agrees with those, such as Cafod and Traidcraft, which believe companies should be made legally accountable to stakeholders other than just shareholders. Under this 'pluralist approach', they'd be required to serve a wider range of interests, not simply as a means of achieving shareholder value, but because serving those interests was a valid objective in its own right. Directors would be made to take account of all ethical considerations which could reasonably be regarded as appropriate to the responsible conduct of business, and to treat the commitments of other parties, such as employees and suppliers, as investments deserving the same kind of consideration as those of shareholders.

ii) Taking back the charter
Continued incorporation should be refused where the interests of the current management do not appear to coincide with the public interest. Initially this might be in cases of corporate manslaughter, persistent pollution or at the discretion of the minister for corporate social responsibility. In such cases a 'forced sale' should take place with the company going to the highest bidder(s) within a fixed period. Because Shareholders would have to absorb any loss in such a sale, they may become more assiduous stewards of corporate behaviour during a company's life.

iii) Human Rights Act
The UK Human Rights Act should be changed so that companies are no longer regarded as individuals with all the rights pertaining to individual human beings.

 

 

5.3 Disclosure

 

Suggestions for increased disclosure also appear in the 'information ' section above.

i) Lobby Groups
Corporations should be obliged to list in their annual reports membership of any industry associations or lobby groups held during the year. Industry associations and lobby groups should, in turn, be obliged to publicly declare the objects of any representations that have been made to governments in the year in question.

ii) International Institutions
a) The WTO should be abandoned, along with its 'free trade' agreements that favour the interests of developed over developing nations and which exacerbate social, economic and environmental injustice around the world. It should be replaced with a democratic, consensus-run body dedicated to the promotion of sustainable trade and economic justice.

b) Any company group with subsidiary companies located in tax havens should be refused permission to trade.

c) A 'Tobin Tax' on international currency speculation should be implemented, (see the Banks Report and the column by Simon Birch in this issue).

d) There should be an international ban on life patents and a 'Producer Responsibility Clause' holding biotech companies financially liable for any undesirable effects of their products.

 

Back to top of page

 

 

 

APPENDIX - 2007

 

Ethical Consumer Manifesto six years on

 

The 2001 manifesto has been widely reproduced and translated into several languages.

In July 2007, after ten years of Labour government in the UK and with Tony Blair handing over power, we looked again at which recommendations had made it into policy, which areas were progressing and which areas saw no movement. Below is an edited version. 

 

 

Positive Moves

 

Government Purchasing

 

In 2004 the European Court of Justice clarified the EU Procurement Directives, designed to provide value for money, protect against corruption and integrate environmental considerations into public procurement procedures.

The UK Government established a business-led Sustainable Procurement Task Force to bring about a "step-change" in public sector procurement practice, which published its report, "Procuring the Future", in April 2006.

In January 2007 the government formally responded with the Sustainable Procurement Action Plan, which set out the goal of achieving "a low carbon, more resource efficient public sector" with climate change mitigation and natural resource protection stated as the highest priorities. These measures will influence £60 billion of central government spending. Before all this, government procurement was constrained by very narrow definitions of "value for money."

The new Plan defines sustainable procurement as "a process whereby organisations meet their needs for goods, services, works and utilities in a way that achieves value for money on a whole life basis in terms of generating benefits not only to the organisation, but also to society and the economy, whilst minimising damage to the environment".

Whole life costing means, in theory, that public departments can buy low energy lightbulbs, instead of having to buy the cheapest incandescent product every year.

While ECRA called for ethical procurement, what the government is planning is sustainable procurement. As is worryingly often the way, while environmental principles are applied there is no concern expressed for workers' rights or other issues in the supply chain.

 

However, there is quite a bit of grassroots activity on ethical procurement. The Fairtrade Town Initiative now has over 240 local authority members. In each, the local council has passed a resolution supporting Fairtrade. 

Cultural change has led to a position where no-one is now prepared to stand up and argue, as they did in the Thatcher era, that ethical procurement is a pernicious obstacle to free trade.

While it is encouraging to see how the plans for ethical procurement are evolving, we are still some way from our goal of making it a requirement of, rather than just a possibility for, all public sector purchases.

  

 

Information

 

1) Labelling

In 2001 we called for better product labelling to enable ethical purchasing decisions. There has been very little positive movement in this area. However, growing public concern about climate change has prompted the development of schemes to measure the carbon footprint of products.

The Carbon Trust is trialling a carbon label this year with Walkers, Boots and Innocent. For products to carry the label, companies first have to complete a carbon analysis of their supply chains and "significant" emission reductions. The label carries a figure for the product's carbon footprint but, more significantly, to retain the label the company must commit to reducing that footprint within two years. Carbon offsetting in the supply chain is excluded. In theory, in the future consumers will be able to compare the embedded carbon of products. 

 

Tesco also announced plans to measure and label the carbon footprint of all products the company sells. Greenpeace UK described the scheme as "a major step forward" although we were less enthusiastic about the prospect. Concerns have also been expressed that 'low carbon' labelled products may be mistaken for "environmentally-friendly," whilst other serious environmental issues in the production process are not measured. Tesco and M&S have also announced labelling of air-freighted products.

 

2) Disclosure

Social, environmental and ethical (SEE) reports are a key tool for rating companies. In 2001 we called for companies of all sizes to be obliged to produce publicly available SEE reports, and for larger companies to submit to independent auditors and set five measurable targets for improvement. In addition we called for the doctrine of 'commercial confidentiality' to be replaced by a 'right to know'.

In 2006 the Companies Act, the biggest reform of UK company law for 150 years, was made law after a process that began in 1998. A mass campaign, co-ordinated by the Corporate Responsibility (CORE) Coalition and the Trade Justice Movement (TJM), saw over 750,000 people call directly on the Government "to make laws that stop big business profiting at the expense of the people and the environment"[6]. 226 MPs supported amendments to the bill proposed by CORE and TJM.

Despite all this lobbying on SEE reporting and auditing, the requirements of the Act are weak. Publicly listed companies, but not large private firms, are required to report on the following issues, but only where that area is deemed to have a bearing on the company's performance or constitute a financial risk:

  • Environmental matters and impact
  • Company's employees
  • Social and community issues
  • Risks in the supply chain

 

There is also much discussion of mandatory CSR reporting at the European level. Unsurprisingly perhaps, Brussels, like London, has currently opted for the voluntary approach.

Legislation on reporting is therefore lagging behind the pressure of the market, where a good reputation for CSR has come to be seen in many sectors as a crucial element of brand value.

Also in the area of disclosure, we called for a European inventory of toxics releases. The European Pollutant Emission Register of industrial emissions into air and water gives access to information on the annual emissions of 12,000 installations reported since 2004.

A more comprehensive register will be available from autumn 2009, to implement the UN Pollutant Release and Transfer Register Protocol, signed in May 2003 by 36 countries and the EU. 

  

 

Education

 

In 2001 we called for socially responsible consumption to be required learning. In 2004 consumer rights and responsibilities and fair trade were incorporated into teaching citizenship for Key Stage 4 (Year 10-11).

 

 

Finance

 

Tax

The only area of our tax proposals that saw positive movement was the introduction in 2003 of the Community Investment Tax Relief (CITR) scheme. Under this scheme tax relief of up to 25% is available to individuals and companies that invest in accredited intermediaries, which in turn invest in enterprises benefiting disadvantaged communities.

 

 

Regulation

 

Energy Labelling

Despite the success of the EU Energy Label in driving energy efficiency in white goods, it is disappointing that the scheme has not been extended to other appliances as we proposed. An energy label for gas ovens is not expected until 2008 at the earliest.

Where the lower rated D to G products have been removed from the market, this has been brought about voluntarily by manufacturers. Since 2004, A+ and A++ energy ratings have been in use for fridges and freezers to distinguish between the increasing numbers of A-rated models.

 

Building Regulations

We also called for higher minimum environmental standards for energy conservation in new buildings. New building regulations came into force on 6th April 2007 with a minimum energy efficiency standard for all buildings. Legislation requires that all house builders display energy efficiency standard (SAP) ratings of all new homes.

owever, a 2004 survey of the top 13 house builders by the WWF found that only 3 developers (Berkeley Group, Countryside Properties and George Wimpey) reported their SAP ratings. These minimum standards leave considerable room for improvement.

The voluntary Eco Homes code offers stricter standards and is likely to be the basis of further revisions to the regulations proposed in 2010 and 2015. There has also been progress in removing some planning permission requirements for installing micro-renewables.

 

Producer Responsibility

The principle of "producer responsibility," where producers should be made financially responsible for the disposal and/or recycling of both products and packaging at the end of a product's life, was a key proposal in 2001.

Implementation of the EU Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive, delayed since 2003, has been scheduled to be fully in place in the UK by 1 July 2007. WEEE will make producers responsible for financing the collection, treatment and recovery of waste electrical equipment, and oblige distributors to allow consumers to return their waste equipment free of charge.

 

Recycling

We called for a statutory requirement for local authorities to implement a national doorstep recycling scheme. The Household Waste Recycling Act 2003 falls far short of that but does require English authorities to collect at least two types of recyclable waste from all households and sets statutory recycling targets at 30% by 2010 and 33% by 2015.

Again, this is an area where legislation falls far short of consumer demand, and local communities and social enterprises have been accelerating the pace of change.

 

 

Controlling Corporate Power

 

Advertising

We called for a "right to reply" to TV advertising that would overturn the ban on campaign groups advertising on radio and TV, without introducing the political party advertising found in the US.

Currently Nuclear Electric or BP are permitted to advertise their green credentials on TV, whilst Friends of the Earth or Greenpeace are prevented by law from questioning these claims, creating a huge cultural bias in favour of the corporate voice.

In July 2006 Animal Defenders International (ADI), with the support of Amnesty and the RSPCA, challenged the law in the High Court, after having been told it could not advertise on TV against the use of primates by commercial companies for advertising. The cost of justice can be prohibitive for campaign groups and the Government had asked for costs to be awarded against ADI.

A representative of ADI reported, "In a remarkable turn of events the High Court waived costs, arguing the case was in the public interest and cleared the way for an appeal directly to the House of Lords. Also, for the first time ever, the Government was unable to certify the legislation as compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights."

The Strasbourg court recently declared a similar ban in Switzerland in breach of article 10 of the Convention and campaigning groups can now advertise freely in most European countries.

 

The manifesto also called for the banning of all advertising or marketing directed at children under 12. Such a ban has existed for TV advertising in Sweden since 1991. Some progress has been made in the UK, with new rules introduced in April 2007 banning adverts for food and drinks high in fat, salt or sugar from broadcast in programmes aimed at four to nine-year-olds. From 2008 the restrictions will be extended to shows aimed at children up to 15 years old and adult programmes watched by a large number of children.

 

Directors' Responsibilities

In 2001 we called for company directors to serve a wider range of interests than shareholder value, and to be made to take account of all ethical considerations that could reasonably be regarded as appropriate to the responsible conduct of business.

We welcome therefore the new duties on UK company directors, laid out for the first time in the Companies Act, to consider the social and environmental impacts of businesses. It remains to be seen how these duties will be implemented.

However a 2007 European Parliament CSR resolution, if made law, would strengthen these duties by requiring directors of companies with more than 1,000 employees to minimise any harmful social and environmental impact of their companies' activities.

 

 

 

Lack of Movement

 

Many of the proposals we made in 2001 have not seen the light of day, from a Minister for Outgoing Sustainable Tourism to the abolition of the World Trade Organisation.

 

Key proposals that have not come to fruition include:

  • Mandatory disclosure by all financial institutions of all shareholdings worth over £1 million and of SRI policies
  • Mandatory disclosure of the ratio of highest to lowest earners within a company and of the lowest 10 pay grades
  • Government-backed environmental performance indicators, accessible online, and containing information on companies and their products
  • All outstanding import duties on externally-verified fairly traded produce should be immediately lifted
  • Tax incentives for ethical investments
  • Reduced corporation tax for corporations meeting certain social and environmental reporting standards
  • Tax breaks for renewable energy providers, financial incentives for organic conversion and domestic renewable energy generation
  • Taking back the charter - continued incorporation should be refused where the interests of management do not coincide with the public interest
  • Reform of the UK Human Rights Act so that companies are no longer given all the rights pertaining to individual human beings.
  • A 'Tobin Tax' on international currency speculation should be implemented
  • Any company group with subsidiary companies located in tax havens should be refused permission to trade

 

 

Key areas in which there has been a disappointing lack of movement include:

 

Labelling

The lack of country of origin and ingredients labelling on all products from TVs to clothing still restricts consumer access to basic information.

We also called on retailer own-brands to carry a code number enabling identification of producers.

In Europe, own-brands now account for about 45% of products sold in supermarkets] and, with the exception of the Co-op, consumers are still unable to trace own-brand product histories.

 

Tax

We called for a number of tax changes to prohibit companies from avoiding liability for the true social and environmental costs of their activities and therefore redress the market distortion against more socially and environmentally benign products and services.

These included: a carbon or energy tax; balanced transport taxation, ending road subsidies and introducing aviation fuel tax; and a pollution tax representing full environmental costs.

Perhaps most notably instead of a carbon tax we have seen instead the introduction of carbon trading in 2005 in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. Phase One of the ETS has failed to drive emissions reductions and it remains to be seen whether Phase Two, beginning in 2008, will achieve significant reductions.

 

Animal Welfare

We called for the EU requirement that all new substances be tested on animals to be lifted, and not extended. In June 2007 the EU Regulation for the Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) will come into force.

According to the European Coalition to End Animal Experiments, although mandatory sharing of animal test data will reduce the number of experiments required, around 8-12 million animals will be used in painful experiments.

We proposed that "best advice" for financial products should be legally required to include ethical issues. With encouragement from the UK Social Investment Forum, a number of positive measures have been introduced.

Socially responsible investment (SRI) has been included in new best practice standards and the financial advisor exam syllabus. Child Trust Funds are also required to have disclosure regarding SRI issues.

 

Back to top of page 

 

 

Join Ethical Consumer

Research & ratings for over 40,000 companies, brands and products, plus Ethical Consumer magazine.

30 day trial subscription - find out more