Jan/Feb 2017

Readers' Letters


from Ethical Consumer Issue 164, January/February 2017


Cover image of EC163Reliable appliances
Having read your article in the last issue of EC163, that the Swedish government is proposing to cut VAT on domestic appliance repairs from 25% down to 12% and allowing customers to claim 50% back on the labour charge through their income tax bill, I felt the need to comment. I have been carrying out domestic appliance repairs for over 20 years and I’m constantly dismayed at the ever declining build quality of the machines I have to work on. While it would make sense to give tax breaks in the very short term, the real solution is to start building quality reliable appliances like they did 25 years ago. I cannot see how using tax payers’ money to repair low quality products that are forever going wrong is a good idea. We are trapped in cycle of ever increasing production and consumption and no government discount is going to change that. I believe the solution is an appliance rental system where the rental companies would source only reliable products.

Graham Cox, by email



Clothing for the pamered gent
I really enjoyed your recent guide about shoes in EC162. I understand there are zillions of manufacturers worldwide and you need to keep your guides manageable. However, I felt that some of the more traditional British shoe brands (e.g. Grenson, Loake, Church) were missing. Since they purport to be manufacturing their goods in the UK, and market themselves as “built to last” (certainly, they are easier to repair than some mass produced shoes), it strikes me that these could potentially be a more ethical choice (as far as leather shoes go). Since another shoe guide is presumably some way off, would you consider reviewing British shoe brands at some point in the future alongside a “formal wear” clothing guide?

It currently is very difficult (virtually impossible) to know where to buy ethical office wear. Your generic clothing guides do not cover vendors like Austin Reed, TM Lewin, Hawes & Curties, etc. For people who work in offices, it would be really useful to know if there is such thing as an ethical suit or formal shirt, and if so, where to buy it. Start-ups like HebTroCo and Arthur&Henry are intriguing too. One to bear in mind? Thank you!

Nicholas Chapman, by email



Feedback on funds
In EC162 you asked for feedback about your plan to limit your money pages fund performance table to just carbon divested or mostly divested funds and I would prefer a separate table also giving the funds you usually show, but which are not carbon divested (but ethical in other ways). I have investments in some of these funds and find the information you usually provide very helpful.

Karen Moujahid, by email

Ed: OK. We will see what we can do in the next issue.




GM food for good or profit?
On the subject of the benefits of genetically modified crops being the panacea to increasing population and hunger (Letters EC163), may I dispel this myth promoted by the agro-chemical industry whose sole interest is increasing their profit. There is nothing inherently wrong with the genetic modification of crop genes which simply accelerate the somewhat random results of natural cross breeding and selection for characteristics beneficial to humans. However the downside is that crops which increase yields also require increased soil fertility to sustain that growth. Inevitably this demands higher doses of synthetically manufactured fertiliser to be applied following the previous crops’ removal generating yet more money for the agri-chem business! While this does produce more yield from the same land, trace elements such as selenium, calcium and zinc are not replaced – the essential mineral content of the food decreases.

Glen D Johnston, by email



Brexit feedback
“Where’s our £350 million a week for the NHS now?” asks Simon Birch (EC163 p50). Still going to the EU, I imagine, since the UK is still a member. And whatever part of it comes back is, I suppose, still coming coming back. Remainers fell hook, line and sinker, for Bojo’s £350 million slogan. Time and again, they walked into debates they could never win about the EU’s value for money. What I don’t get is why Simon Birch directs his rage – and his boycott – where he does. From his own point of view, wouldn’t the inept leaders of Remain be more deserving targets? I voted leave and I’m glad we won. I don’t believe I was conned and I am disappointed to find my views disrespected on the pages of EC. I voted leave mainly because I found the left-wing arguments for Remain vague, sentimental and unconvincing.   Simon Birch campaigned, he says, for “the institution that puts the ideals of collaboration and co-operating centre stage”. How was voting Remain going to bring that institution into being?

Bob Deacon, Wolverhamption


Simon Birch says: Far from being ‘vague, sentimental and unconvincing’, the UK’s continued membership of the EU provides one of the few concrete opportunities to tackle some of the most urgent problems now facing the world including climate change and environmental destruction. This is the view of all the UK’s major environmental groups and significantly our one Green MP, Caroline Lucas. In contrast, the Leave campaign has failed to produce a shred of evidence to convince me that the planet will be safer after we’re dragged out of the EU. Brexit is a disaster for us all.



Inside View rewritten
Simon Birch (EC163, Inside View article, p50) may be boiling mad, but he’s only had a few months. By comparison, I’ve had 40 YEARS of frustration and simmering annoyance, and I promise you I’m much more mad than him. I have prepared a follow-up, which I think fills the bill. You’ll notice a certain similarity in style. That’s because I’ve simply turned everything of his around on its head.

Why I’m boycotting the Remain backers
Still mad about the 1975 referendum? Then boycott the companies who backed the recent Remain campaign, says James Mason.

Don’t tell me to calm down. And whatever you do, please do not say that I should move on.
It’s now over 40 years since the wretched and wickedly divisive referendum, but like thousands of others, I’m still seething with raw anger about the way that traitors Heath, Wilson and the other quislings conned the country into voting to join the EEC with their bigotry, lies and little European rhetoric. Such a shame we’re still paying £350m to the EU coffers each week, when a good part of it could be going to the NHS. (Government accounts are so opaque that nobody knows exactly how much money does eventually come back, but it’s probably around half). The sooner we stop shelling out the better for everyone.

We all agree that the EU is far from perfect, thank you very much. No commercial body would be allowed to stay in business with its accounts not signed off for 20 years. For all that time the EU has been cosying up with some of the planet’s biggest and most profit hungry multinationals to threaten the rights of both its citizens and the environment. Excellent arguments indeed for Leave, one might say….why do the Remainians simply not see that? We’ve tried for 40 years to reform the beast, but every step has been beset by failure. Mostly from vested interests, and being blocked by our so-called European partners.

I’m going to take back control by boycotting the companies that backed Remain.
Quite simply I don’t want to give one penny to the companies that back Remain, something I fundamentally disagree with. Those that back Remain are plentiful and some of them are also aggressive corporation tax avoiders into the bargain. Here then are a few of those whose bosses I believe publicly backed Remain, and the ones I’m going to give the cold shoulder: Microsoft, Apple, Marks & Spencer, Lush, John Lewis.  It’s actually a long list, since the Remain camp attracted a big chunk of UK PLC, including many high street names. Alas Brexit didn’t get the same level of support from British business. That’s probably because they do very nicely out of the present arrangements.

I’m under no illusion that my boycott will have a financial impact on these companies. Bill Gates won’t care one iota that I don’t buy his expensive products….even more so since he’s just jacked up the prices (blaming Brexit, naturally enough). But that’s not the point. As Ethical Consumer says on its website, ‘we view boycotts as a vitally important extension of our formal democracy.’ Given that my vote not to join the EEC in 1975, along with millions of others, counted for nothing, I’m now exercising my rights as a consumer. Yes, virtually all of the 60 or so consumer boycotts that are currently listed on the Ethical Consumer website have clear targets, whether it be calling for Nestlé to end its dodgy marketing of baby milk, or Amazon to start paying its fair share of tax. But not all boycotts have to have clearly defined aims and goals. In its purest form boycotts are the ultimate form of protest that consumers have. And in the absence of any alternative it’s the one option that I’m going to grab. So if you feel similarly enraged about how it went in 1975, why not join my boycott? Futile it may be, but what other option have we got? Simply to show them that Brexit means business.

James Mason, by email