Nov/Dec 2016

Readers' Letters


from Ethical Consumer Issue 163, November/December 2016



Brand awareness
I was pleased to read the latest edition on shoes and especially the section on walking boots.  I do a fair bit of hiking, including long distance trails, over a number of days.  Comfort, durability and performance are important to me although I am also very concerned to purchase a more ethical product. My current boots are Meindl ones which tick the boxes for me and I note that they score reasonably well on the ethiscore table.

I was, however, disappointed that you did not include the Alt-Berg brand which I am considering buying in the future. A number of ramblers that I have met have given them strong recommendations and I wonder how they rate ethically.

The company has a factory in Yorkshire and another in Italy. I like to spread the word about ethical considerations to fellow walkers, and in the case of Paramo garments, I can recommend them on both performance and ethical status. It would be good to do the same with boots.

Malcolm Kimber, by email


Wrong footed?
I was astonished that your article on Walking Boots in EC162 did not consider Alt-Berg of Richmond. A simple search for ‘UK-made Walking Boots’ would have brought up their name on the first page. They make custom-made boots in Richmond and offer a resoling service on their boots. (You even devoted a page to ‘Rebooting footwear’!) OK, they make military specific boots as well, and their off-the-shelf footwear is made in a factory in Italy. Their boots are available at outlets all over the UK though. Surely they deserved consideration and surely any report that you prepare should go out of the way to find UK-made sources? Similarly, you ignored, or failed to find, companies such as Solovair who make shoes and boots in the UK, and are cheaper than some of the ‘ethical’ choices that you listed. I bought from them when I was looking for a DM-style shoe under £100 that was still made in the UK.

David Noland, by email

Ed: Unfortunately we have limited resources and are not able to cover all the many small companies in a sector. We always try to cover the biggest brands in a market and the most widely available alternatives. We will try and add Alt-Berg to the guide on the website.


The need for ethics and quality
Having been a supporter of No Sweat and Labour Behind the Label for many years, I was very interested to read your review of footwear in your Sept/Oct 16 edition. Ethletic and Veja came out as Best Buys in your fashion trainers report. Over the last two years I have bought both of these brands. Both fell apart within a couple of months of very modest summer wear – the state of the English summer over the last two years has not required heavy summer shoe use!

I contacted Ethletic as I had a pair of trainers from them previously which had lasted a few years so I thought maybe I had been unlucky with my most recent pair. They never responded. If these ethical brands are to help us committed consumers change things, they really need to sort out their quality control and their customer service. Being ethical in and of itself just isn’t enough. There is no reason why those of us who care about the ethics should therefore have to compromise on quality and service. As long as these brands fail to make the grade in these areas they will not change the buying habits of most people or effect the change that we and they want to see in the world.
Best wishes and warm regards for the brilliant work that you do.

Clare Horrell, by email


It’s not easy being green!
I’ve been wanting to open a Saving Account and looked at the Ecology Building Society – recommended on your site. I found that I can’t open an ISA until I have an account with them. I tried to open either an instant access or regular savings account with them and found they were both closed until further notice. I have spent a considerable part of the last three weeks researching these accounts only to find the door closed. I will regrettably leave my money with HSBC.

Secondly, on looking at articles on food I see that Ocado and Amazon score badly on your charts. However, on looking at individual cereal producers, you recommend Windmill Organics in Surrey as number one, yet its products are available at – guess where, Amazon and Ocado. Until the industry sorts out these aberrations, they will not be taken seriously. Windmill Organics should think about the message they are sending out by using these companies. I have encountered similar problems with a biomass boiler I have had installed and an Audi electric car. I mention these as proof that I am trying to be green despite the obstacles.

Michael Stafford, by email


Palm oil woes
I logged onto your site via a message from Steppes travel. Mention was made of orangutan tours. Several years ago I visited Sumatra and the orangutans in the wild, and already there was a rescue centre. Palm oil production was everywhere. Until then I had no idea how big it was going to get. So much for my experience. However, on your list of foods, looking for ‘free from’ [palm oil], there is NO MENTION of dairy products, which in my view must be some of the worst, certainly by volume – think of all those spreads etc. The only one I know of [as being palm oil free] is Yeo Valley. Surely you should give them a mention.... or have I missed something? I wish products without, or with very low levels [of palm oil], would say so in BIG letters. This would be a great marketing thing and remind people. I am well aware of shampoos, creams etc. etc. We can only use less or lobby makers to change things. If Yeo Valley can use other veg oil so can other spread makers.

Jane, via email

Ed: Yes, we did cover palm oil free spreads in our magazine (Issue 156 and on the website) but they haven’t made it onto our Palm Oil Free list yet. Our best buy for butter and spreadable butter was Yeo Valley which are palm oil free. Plus, they are organic. For margarine & spreads, none of the brands we covered were palm oil free. Our Best Buy, Biona, uses organic palm oil, and it got our best palm oil rating of all the spread companies that we covered for using certified palm oil.


Product ethics versus the seller
I write in support of Denise Long’s letter (EC 162) on ratings of supermarkets’ own brand products, and the potential discrepancy between the ethical background of a specific product and the supermarket’s overall position. Could you not provide us with two separate ratings, one for the product and one overall one for the supermarket’s attitude to supply chains, environmental reporting etc.? We could then make an informed judgement when – as in Ms Long’s example – a really ethical product is being sold by a much less ethical supermarket. Some of us might decide to boycott the dodgy establishment while others would be happy to go for the good product. When it’s all rolled into one figure we’re left guessing.

Bill Linton, by email

Ed: Part of the reason we do it like this is because the supermarkets don’t disclose the makers of their own brand products. If they did, perhaps we could.


GM – an agricultural tool like any other

I really didn’t think your answer to Zoe Round’s letter defending GMOs answered the question. The same scientific organisations we trust on climate change say that GM crops are no more or less safe than conventional; but your May/June issue didn’t mention that at all. Instead, you gave an entire page to the head of an anti-GM organisation. Readers rely on you to give them facts, not just to publicise whichever campaign shouts “no”, and let misleading scaremongering pass without question. GM might not be the sole answer to ‘the problem of global hunger’, but higher yields are definitely going to help. It’s the embodiment of privilege when folk in the developed world campaign against more efficient crop varieties. It should have no place in Ethical Consumer.

Ian Macdonald, by emai