from Ethical Consumer Issue 160, May/June 2016
..pants on fire
Following Guy Johnson’s letter in your Nov/Dec edition (EC157) and the subsequent response by Ben at Pants to Poverty, I thought it would be fine to order some pants. I have had plenty of their pants before though never via the internet. My order was placed on 11 Jan and I paid via credit card through PayPal. The payment went through but no pants, no replies to my emails, no functioning phone at Pants to Poverty and I am clearly very disappointed. It leaves a sour taste.
Mrs Angry, by email
Ed: Similar problems were reported by the Guardian on March 29th. It would be wise to avoid Pants to Poverty until further notice and we have removed them from our product guide on the website.
I notice that Royal London Sustainable World is mentioned in your list of Ethical and Green Funds on p35 of EC157. However, a reputable stockbroking website lists them as having holdings in some companies that subscribers may not wish to indulge in. Investments include: Amazon, BT Group, Starbucks and Disney. Of course subscribers must make their own decisions and consult an independent financial advisor when selecting suitable products that match their needs and views.
Ian White, by email
Ed: Most ethical mutual funds have similar ‘problem’ holdings. Our regular money page listing is of funds which claim to be ethical or green and should not be seen as an endorsement. We are preparing a new review of ethical funds for the next issue (EC161).
Dangers of ethical investments
I invested £18,000 in EF Forestry in 2012, buying 600 Melina trees (minimum investment) to be planted on an estate in Costa Rica. I chose this company because I wanted to use my money (part of a pension pot) ethically in a sustainable enterprise and I hoped for a good return which was promised in the illustrations. Sad to say, the company has just gone into liquidation and I have probably lost everything. I thought of writing a cautionary letter to Ethical Consumer. Of course, there is always a risk with investments but, at a time when I sense there is a growing interest in trying to invest ethically and positively, people do need to be wary.
On a not unrelated matter, my wife and I selected an ethical investment advisor, mentioned on p32 of your March/April 2014 magazine, to enable my wife to convert her employee pension from an annuity to a flexible access draw-down facility. This has now almost been completed but we were singularly unimpressed with the company.
Rupert Bullock, by email
Ed: Thanks for the reminder that just because a company claims to be ethical does not make it financially viable. As we mentioned in the article “Even with ethical advisors, you do need to find someone with whom you are comfortable personally, and it may be worth trying more than one.”
‘Luddite Fallacy’ response
I am writing in response to J Moriarty’s letter in the March issue (EC159), regarding the “Luddite Fallacy” and the issue of Synthetically Modified Organisms (SMOs) producing products that are currently grown.
It appears to me that the Luddite Fallacy risks fallacies of its own: namely assuming that the removal of a job by technological means will automatically lead to its replacement by a superior job, and that this would not happen anyway. I know it is not a direct equivalent, but consider the former industrial regions of the UK: the loss of core industries led to social and economic hardship, and talented people moving to the already overcrowded London. Regeneration may be argued to happen in spite of this rather than because of it, and is often driven by public sector investment.
It is true that the Industrial Revolution, in the end, delivered increased life quality for us, but there was an intervening period of slums and children crawling through moving machinery that we could and should have done without. Furthermore, our grand-children may find themselves wishing that it had never happened at all as they suffer the full force of the greenhouse gases emitted. If we had our time over again, I believe that most ethical people would prefer it had happened very differently.
I realise that technological and economic genies do not like getting back in their bottles. Perhaps if Madagascar retained the rights to license SMO production of its former products it would help, but it generally requires an extremely enlightened, democratic and transparent government to ensure that benefits are shared out to good effect.
In short: I believe that Madagascar is agricultural because it is poor, not poor because it is agricultural, and that removing a source of income into foreign corporate hands is unlikely to assist development. I would rather scientific investment and expertise in genetic modification be spent in medicine.
James A Tucker, by email
Small is bountiful
I don’t share Jonathan Moriaty’s vision of a world dominated by industrialised and commercialised agriculture (Letters, EC159). The modern UK agricultural model certainly has many benefits, but it is energy and capital intensive. Farming only employs 1% of the labour force but produces 9% of greenhouse gas emissions. Modern agriculture also has significant impacts on the environment, soils and land drainage and uses large inputs of fertilisers and pesticides which in turn are energy intensive. Water consumption is also significant (especially in drier areas such as the USA and Australia) and this, like some other inputs (phosphates for example), are subject to shortages. I suspect that many people who might have worked in farming have mind-numbing and unfulfilling jobs not the interesting ones listed.
My vision is an ‘intermediate technology’ vision (as developed and promoted by Fritz Schumacher) being put into place in many developing countries with support from organisations such as Practical Action, Tree Aid and Oxfam. Only in the last few days a leaflet from Global Justice Now arrived in my letter box explaining how successful small scale farmers in Tanzania are threatened by the big business approach of the ‘New Alliance’. We need an approach which leads away from domination by multinational businesses such as Monsanto.
Malcolm Kimber, by email
Taiwan not oppressive
Firstly, I would like to say I have a lot of respect for your work at Ethical Consumer, and I truly resonate with your mission. I’ve enjoyed using your website as a valuable resource to make better purchase decisions, and currently I’m doing research on the next pair of walking boots. Hence I came across your Walking Boots Product Guide.
I almost bought the report until I spotted the sentence: “The group has stores throughout Europe as well as in China, Dubai, Russia, and Taiwan, which are considered by Ethical Consumer oppressive regimes”. As a Taiwanese citizen, this really shocked me for Taiwan to be listed next to China, Dubai and Russia. I looked up the latest “Oppressive Regimes” report I can find from 2011 and can see that Taiwan is listed as no. 121 on the list of 196 countries. Taiwan is widely considered to be the FIRST democracy in Asia, and though there’s absolutely much to be improved as a nation, I found the sentence you’ve used in the report to be extremely misleading.
Juliet Chen, by email
Ed: Sorry, and thanks for bringing this to our attention. This was an error not picked up in the checking phase, and has now been amended on the website.
The thing that convinced me to cancel my subscription was Rob Harrison’s editorial in Issue 159. He’s obviously determined to support EU membership even though he can’t find any coherent reasons. His superficial gestures towards the important issues such as TTIP are meaningless in real terms, and basically his editorial is a mish-mash of shoddy thinking and ineffectual assertions.
This isn’t why I read Ethical Consumer, and this editorial policy will obviously undermine everything the magazine is supposed to be for, due to TTIP as well as a host of other issues. Having gestured towards the real issues, Harrison swings back into a one-sided caricature of the leave campaign and effectively plumps for EU membership. With that, everything Ethical Consumer stands for is finished. You’ve sold us out.
Andrew Redhead, by email
I wonder why there is not more concern about our exposure to increasing levels of Wi-Fi. This (microwave) radiation is, after all, classified by the WHO as a potential (2B) carcinogen, and the frequency is also linked to, inter alia, cardiovascular diseases, male infertility and behavioural problems. I know of four studies that link this frequency with impaired cognition, and two with impaired memory.
I ask the Ethical Consumer to consider producing an up-to-date informational piece on these devices. Some old-fashioned investigative journalism might be needed in order to shine a light on the obvious vested interests, and on potential conflicts of interest, especially in relation to bodies tasked with regulation.
Guy Wood, Haverfordwest