Waterproof Jackets

Ethical shopping guide to Waterproofs & Insulated Jackets, from Ethical Consumer.

Ethical shopping guide to Waterproofs & Insulated Jackets, 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.

Are any of the big outdoor companies near the peak of ethics? Or are they still lagging behind other clothing sectors?

The report includes:

  • Ethical and environmental ratings for 17 brands of waterproof jackets
  • Best Buy recommendations
  • Profiles of selected companies
  • Update on supply chain policies
  • Toxic use of PFCs in waterproof products
  • Examine the cruelty behind down-filled jackets

 Read our special report into the Clothing Industry

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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.

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Best Buys

as of January/February 2016

As our ratings are constantly updated, it is possible that these companies will not always come out top on the scoretable.

Our Best Buy is Paramo, followed by Patagonia. Both of these get our best rating for supply chain which includes a living wage clause.

An alternative to buying new gear is recycleoutdoorgear.com





Special Report

Ethical Issues in the Fashion Industry.



Policy Questions


There’s a great irony that those who love the outdoors can have such a negative environmental impact through the clothes and kit they buy to enjoy it. And with policies on workers’ rights in the outdoor market lagging behind other clothing sectors it’s people, as well as the planet, that pay the price. While scandals about conditions in clothing supply chains have hit the big fashion labels and retailers, prompting change, the outdoor brands have failed to keep up. 

As well as asking companies about their environmental and supply chain policies we asked companies questions about the following areas key to this market:



We asked companies if they have a policy that covers: 

  • Includes a set of clear targets to remove discharge of all hazardous



We asked companies if they have a policy that covers: 

  • The use of genetically modified cotton,
  • Pesticides and herbicides, 
  • Sourcing from Uzbekistan, a country with an appalling human rights record and massive use of forced child labour in its cotton industry.


Animal rights

We asked companies if they have a policy that covers:

  • the use of goose/duck down in sleeping bags, leather in boots or merino wool from Australia.



Comparison of companies' positive policies



Pollution and Toxics

Most of the brands in this guide were started by outdoor enthusiasts themselves. You would think they would do everything they could to protect the environment that their customers will be out to explore. It is disappointing then, to see that all the companies covered lost some marks for pollution and toxics.

Only Jack Wolfskin scored an outright Best for its Toxics Policy due to aiming to ban all dangerous chemicals from its entire production chain by 2020. They also, along with Patagonia and Mountain Equipment, only use cotton that is organic. Paramo and Howies also got a best ranking for being smaller companies offering more environmentally conscious alternatives.

Rank a Brand in the Netherlands have just released new rankings for the sustainability of Sports and Outdoor brands, covering issues including child labour, fair wages, environmentally preferred materials, toxic chemicals and the reduction of carbon emissions.[1]

Here are the rankings of the brands we have also covered:

  • Jack Wolfskin and Patagonia – ‘Reasonable, Could do Better’ 
  • Berghaus, Helly Hansen North Face and Regatta – ‘First Milestones, Should be Better’
  • Columbia – ‘Don’t buy’


Chemicals in Waterproof Jackets

Images of pristine nature are often used for advertising outdoor clothing. But nature does not remain untouched by the chemicals in weather-resistant fabrics. In September 2015, Greenpeace launched the Detox Outdoor campaign to get outdoor brands to eliminate the use of toxic PFCs to waterproof their products. This is part of Greenpeace’s wider Detox campaign which they began in 2011.


What are PFCs?

PFCs are per- and polyfluorinated chemicals, which are used for their ability to repel water, dirt and oil. PFC use can also be identified by various other names including PFOA, PFOS, PTFE and PFAS.If an outdoor jacket is waterproof and doesn’t say it’s PFC-free, it may well contain them. The widely known and used materials Gore-Tex and Teflon use a PTFE membrane. You will see many companies using the term DWR (durable water repellent), which in many cases will contain PFCs.

Who's using PFC's?


The only brand in this guide taking a strong position against PFCs is Paramo but some companies are doing more than others. 

Read the full report into PFC's: 'Detox The Great Outdoors'



Workers' Rights


In the last guide to outdoor gear in 2010, we commented that workers’ rights policies in the outdoor market were lagging behind other clothing sectors, largely due to lack of scrutiny. There has been some improvement in supply chain policies this time, partly helped by Jack Wolfskin, Mountain Equipment and Sprayway signing up to the Fair Wear Foundation initiative. But only Jack Wolfskin, Paramo and Patagonia get our best rating for supply chain management. Most of the companies still score worst for supply chain management and workers’ rights.

However, in 2014, the Fair Wear Foundation (FWF) and the European Outdoor Group (EOG) industry body, did produce a report called Living Wage Engineering which recognised the potential for outdoor gear companies to become leaders and pioneers on living wages.


For more information read our 'Lack of Living Wage' article as part of our fashion special report. 



The Cruelty Behind Down-Filled Jackets


Down is a prized commodity for the outdoor equipment industry. Every year, hundreds of tonnes of it are processed, from millions of ducks and geese. 

But you may be shocked to hear that these geese and ducks can have their feathers plucked while alive, repeatedly for years, and that the more you ‘live-pluck’ a bird, the more sought-after is their down for its higher ‘fill-power’. Down and feathers may also come from birds that have been cruelly force-fed for the controversial paté, foie gras.

Many outdoor gear manufacturers state that the feathers they use come only from birds that were reared and killed for meat, and that were only plucked after slaughter. However, there is often very little traceability within the supply lines of these companies.


Outdoor companies now leading the way


Although 90% of down used globally is in the bedding industry, momentum for change eventually came from outdoor companies, with Patagonia, The North Face and Mountain Equipment each developing their own standards – the Traceable Down Standard (TDS), the Responsible Down Standard (RDS), and the Down Codex.

Down policies:

TDS - Traceable Down Standard

RDS - Responsible Down Standard


For more information read our 'Problem with Down' article. 



Eco Product Labels



The Bluesign logo is a voluntary scheme for clothing companies. It is a certification and labelling scheme designed to provide environmental and health & safety standards and solutions for textile manufacturers. It is built around five principles: resource productivity, consumer safety, air emission, water emission and occupational health and safety. 

It aims to tackle environmental problems at their root. Prior to production all inputs – from raw materials, to chemical components – are analyzed and receive a rating based on the toxic impacts on humans, animals and ecosystems. The hope is that this will eliminate potentially harmful substances from the process before production begins. 

Many companies have signed up to the standard but few have the mark on specific products. Christine Waeber from Bluesign said:

“Not all brands are interested in having a bluesign label on their clothes as their main focus is mostly to work in their supply chain and the environmental issues there in.”

The brands covered in this report that are working with Bluesign are:

  • Berghaus
  • Helly Hansen
  • North Face
  • Patagonia
  • Jack Wolfskin



Company Profiles


Paramo was founded and is still owned by Nick Brown who is also the founder and owner of Nikwax, the first company in the world to produce a range of water-based waterproofing products, to replace solvent-based aerosols, when ozone depletion became a concern in the 1980s.

Each year Paramo’s Recycling Scheme receives around 1000 garments which it refurbishes and resells as second-hand; or it is able to recycle them into new high quality fibre, because they do not contain a membrane or laminate. 80% of Paramo’s production takes place in a factory in Colombia, run to give new opportunities to vulnerable women. The company also has a volunteering policy, incentivising its UK staff to use up to 5 days holiday per year for volunteering projects of their choice by paying them an additional £50 per day.

Patagonia is a B-Corp, or ‘Benefit Corporation’. This means employees, communities and the environment rank alongside shareholders in decision making processes. In 2015, Patagonia increased its number of Fair Trade products from 33 to 192, made in India, Sri Lanka and Los Angeles, California. The company is now looking to enrol other factories in the Fair Trade program in Thailand, Vietnam, Colombia and Mexico. After discovering human trafficking in their own supply chain in Taiwan in 2012, they developed a ‘Migrant Worker Standard’ which they now apply to their whole supply chain.

Helly Hansen was started by a Norwegian sea captain and his wife in 1877. It is now owned by the Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan, a huge company that invests in an array of widely criticised corporations including ExxonMobil, BAE Systems and Nestlé. The OTPP also owns Camelot who run the UK National Lottery, as well as the company that secured a 20 year contract in 2014 to run the Irish National Lottery.

Jack Wolfskin would have ranked higher if it was not owned by the Blackstone Group. Blackstone cost them marks due to their investments in Sealife and Seaworld centres which have boycott calls against them, as well as being members of several major lobby groups, and paying its directors excessive salaries.


North Face is the target of a campaign against its owner, VF Corp, which has not signed the Bangladesh Accord.





1 http://rankabrand.org/sustainable-outdoor-clothing 





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