Clothes shops - High St

Shopping guide to High Street Clothes Shops, from Ethical Consumer

Shopping guide to High Street Clothes Shops, from Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

This guide is part of a special report on the fashion industry which includes:


In this guide:

  • Ethical and environmental ratings for 57 high street clothes shops
  • Best Buy recommendations
  • how we rated the companies
  • what's wrong with silk and fur

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Score Ratings

Our ratings are live updated scores from our primary research database. They are based on primary and secondary research across 23 categories - 17 negative categories and 6 positive ones (Company Ethos and Product Sustainability). Find out more about our ethical ratings


Score table

The score table shows simple numerical ratings out of 20 for each product. The higher the score, the more ethical the company.

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Full Scorecard

The Full Scorecard shows the 'black marks' for each product, by each of the 17 negative categories. The bigger the mark, the worse the score. So for example a big black circle under 'Worker Rights' shows that the company making this product has been severely criticised for worker abuses.

Scores start at 14.  A small circle means that half a mark is deducted, a large circle means that a full mark is deducted.

Marks are added in the positive categories of Company Ethos and the five Product Sustainability columns (O,F,E,S,A).  A small circle  means that half a mark is added, a large circle means that a full mark is added.

The Full Scorecard is only available to subscribers. Click on the More Detail link at the top of the score table to access it.


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Best Buys

as of May/June 2014

As our ratings are constantly updated, it is possible that the company ratings on the scoretable may have changed since this report was written.


We recommend buying from the Best Buy ‘Alternative clothing’ as your first choice.

Whilst not eligible for the Best Buy label, the best of the high street brands are M&S and Zara because of their top rating policies on supply chain, living wage and toxics.
Both brands offer menswear and sell online.

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How we rated the companies


Cotton sourcing

All clothing companies using cotton (almost all do) have been asked for a cotton sourcing policy.
Pesticides: Companies receive negative marks under the Pollution & Toxics category if they use conventionally-grown cotton with no plan to reduce pesticide and herbicide use in the near future.
GM cotton: Due to its prevalence, companies which have not made a commitment that they will avoid Genetically Modified (GM) cotton receive a mark under the Genetic Engineering column. The exception is organically grown cotton which is GM-free.
Uzbek cotton: Companies receive a negative mark under the Human Rights category if they have not banned the use of cotton from Uzbekistan in their supply chains. Companies which scored a score of 50 or over in the Cotton Sourcing Snapshot (by Responsible Sourcing Network) receive a positive mark in the Company Ethos category for making solid efforts to keep Uzbek cotton out of their supply chain. Two companies in this product guide receive that mark – Marks & Spencer and Phillips-Van Heusen (PVH, owner of Calvin Klein).

See how the companies scored on Uzbek cotton.


Animal rights

Companies which sell products that involve the killing or harming of animals are marked down under Ethical Consumer’s rating system. Blobs in the Animal Rights column appear for:
Silk: (see below)
Leather: a slaughterhouse by-product
Australian merino wool: which can involve the use of ‘mulesing’ where a chunk of skin is cut from the un-anaesthetised animal to prevent maggot infestations.

We have not marked down companies which use wool in this guide.


Product sustainability

In this report, companies which scored in the top band of the following two reports were awarded extra marks under our rating system, due to the critical importance of these issues in the clothing sector:

How we rated companies on toxics

  • Companies leading the way in the Greenpeace score card score the best rating in our pollution and toxics column – Benetton, Fast Retailing, Inditex, L Brands, Marks & Spencer.
  • Companies doing something receive a middle rating in our pollution and toxics column – Primark and H&M.
  • Companies doing little or nothing receive our worst rating in our pollution and toxics column – all the other companies on the score table.

For companies to score best they must be doing four or more of the things listed below. For companies to score middle they must be doing at least two. For companies to score worst there was no mention of hazardous chemicals or there was vague promises.

  • Company identifies a priority list of hazardous chemicals (HCs).
  • Company sets clear targets to remove discharge of all HCs (with dates).
  • Company requires that suppliers disclose data on release of HCs.
  • Company publicly discloses data on the HCs used and progress towards removing them.
  • Company discusses alternatives to current HCs used (ie. not reducing their use, but replacing them).

Companies that provide environmental alternatives and have a turnover of less than £8 million were not rated.






Supply chain management


For a ‘Best’ rating in this category we look for a combination of a good policy or ‘Code of Conduct’, alongside monitoring and working with factories to improve working conditions in cases where standards aren’t met. Companies which engage with a range of stakeholders on supply chain issues, including non-governmental organisations and trade unions, receive a better score. Also, transparency is rewarded under our ratings system, so companies publicising their list of suppliers and results from factory audits get a better score too.





Ethical Consumer assigns a negative mark in the animal rights category to any company supplying products containing silk. Why?

Conventional silk fabric is generally made by unwinding and reeling the silk threads from a silk worm’s cocoon. To prevent the silk fibres getting damaged during the metamorphosis process, the caterpillars inside the cocoon are normally prevented from developing into moths. The cocoons are heat-treated by boiling, steaming or exposing them to dry heat, resulting in the deaths of caterpillars inside. Additionally, conventional silk tends to come from the Bombyx mori caterpillars, which do not exist naturally in the wild. Due to their domestication and selective rearing for silk production, Bombyx mori moths are unable to fly and unable to eat when a mature adult. Even if allowed to develop into a moth, they would eventually starve to death.1,2

A ‘vegetarian’ silk, otherwise known as Ahimsa (peace) silk, is used by one of the alternative clothing companies in this report: Peau Ethique. Peace silk tends to be made from Eri or Tassar moth cocoons which are harvested once the caterpillars inside have developed and hatched into moths. The broken and empty cocoons are then collected and spun into “slubby threads” without killing any caterpillars.

Peace silk is therefore, in theory, ‘cruelty free’. However, peace silk may still be made from cocoons created by the Bombyx mori caterpillar, and can still be produced under intensive rearing conditions where cocoons may be slit with knives and the caterpillar removed to prevent cocoons getting damaged during hatching. Additionally, even if a moth is allowed to hatch (for breeding purposes) and its cocoon used for peace silk, its offspring may still be boiled to death in their cocoons.3

In theory a company could state that its silk is sourced from empty cocoons harvested in the wild or from sustainably managed plantations (certified organic or biodynamic), without the use of Bombyx mori caterpillars. Otherwise, use of silk will result in a negative mark under our animal rights category. To our knowledge, only Peau Ethique states this at present.

References:  All website were viewed in March 2014 1  2  3



Would you rather be naked than wear fur?


Based on reports by Vogue, fewer fashionistas and designers appear to agree with PETA’s anti-fur campaign slogan: ‘I’d rather be naked than wear fur’. A reported 69% of designers used fur within their 2013 autumn/winter collections.1 Global sales of fur have been on a steady increase since 1999, and late 2013 saw the disappointing move by Harvey Nichols and the Flannel’s clothing chain to start restocking items trimmed with and made of real animal fur – despite previously pledging to go fur-free. (Harvey Nichols had been fur-free for nine years). The return of this ‘killer look’ may be down to a growing market of middle-class consumers in fur-loving countries like China and Russia; emerging designers accepting sponsorship from the fur trade; and the current economic climate putting animal rights issues and the eradication of fur low down on the political agenda.2

Whatever the reason, wearing the skins of other animals is cruel, and many fabric alternatives exist that make it unnecessary. What’s more, you can’t be sure which animal’s skin you’re wearing. According to an investigation by PETA, China, which provides half the fur clothing items supplied to America, has been reported to deliberately mislabel cat and dog fur used for clothing as being from other animal species.3

If the numerous animal rights abuses perpetrated by the fur trade aren’t enough to sway consumers from reaching for fur, then maybe the environmental damage caused by the fur trade will. According to Animal Defender’s International (ADI), a fur coat made from the skins of animals raised on a ranch, uses 60 times more energy than that needed to produce fake fur. Additionally, fur clothing contains a range of toxic chemicals that prevent the animal skin from decomposing, and numerous fur companies have been fined for inappropriately disposing of hazardous waste and polluting waterways with the excrement of caged animals.3

On another slightly more positive note, several UK firms (including Marks & Spencer, the Arcadia Group, Primark, Next and New Look) have halted the sale of products containing angora following PETA’s release of a video showing animal cruelty during the angora ‘fur extraction’ process.4

In conclusion, as Made in Chelsea star and PETA’s new anti-fur campaign model, Lucy Watson, clearly stated: “There is nothing glamorous about ripping fur off an animal’s back whilst they are still alive so you can have a nice coat. Wear Faux Fur”.4

Wear alternative fabrics and pledge to go fur free. Visit PETA’s website,, for more information and campaign updates.

References: 1 Suzy Corrigan, Fur, the comeback and the backlash,, Feb 2014  2 Dain Fitzgerald, Sadly, Fur is Making a Comeback in the Fashion World,, Feb 2014  3 Choose Cruelty Free,  4 Kashmira Gander, More shops ban the sale of angora wool after video exposes cruelty, 16/12/2013, Independent  5, Made in Chelsea star Lucy Watson poses naked for anti-fur campaign, Jan 2014



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