Readers' Letters from Ethical Consumer Issue 154
Ethical products and the corporate world
I find myself worried that many of your reports (e.g. the recent one on peatfree compost in EC153) give little recognition to any positive aspect of the ‘big, bad’ companies venturing into the ethical market. If it is recognised, in the field of investments, that a very effective way of influencing the policies of big companies is to vote at their AGMs (via appropriate ethical investment funds), then I don’t see why similar thinking can’t apply to spending choices in the market place itself.
If ethically-minded customers, influenced by your reporting emphasis on the overall poor attitude to ethics, sustainability, etc., of particular big companies, end up boycotting the ethical products that they do market, then what message are those companies going to take home?
Surely that there is no interest in ethical products and it isn’t worth their while trying to supply them! That surely must be the reverse of what we want to achieve?
Galashiels, Scottish Borders
Ed: Our Product Sustainability column means that any company, big or small, is rewarded with plus points if the product reviewed is Fairtrade, organic, vegan, vegetarian or has environmental or other sustainable features. But we are mindful that big companies may be ‘niche marketing’ ethical products to exert some greenwash over the rest of their more dubious activities. For example, Nestlé’s Fairtrade Kit Kats are a very small proportion of all the chocolate they sell and that would not be the case if they were truly passionate about the principle of fair trade. We always try and give a “widely available” best buy recommendation which will be one of the bigger companies.
For example in our last clothing magazine we recommended that people use M&S, whose plan A
process is making a big impact in a sector otherwise performing very poorly on ethics. This was also the case with supermarkets (please see below).
Supermarkets and their ethical ratings
I am very new to ethical shopping, but have always been quite concerned about my lifestyle and my impacts. I always understood that supermarkets were not great for many reasons but always wondered, if I use one, which one would be the best?
I tried all of them and found myself sticking with Sainsbury’s, as I always felt they tried hard to be better for the environment: e.g. recycling of packaging, and plastic bags, and sale of responsibly sourced fish, and their SO Organic range (which I buy). I feel that if something is organic, it must be better for earth. So very simply, I just felt they are really trying, but was amazed when I saw your table (EC152).
Is it all just good marketing? Am I just being naive? Please can you advise me, should I be always looking only on the top of your charts, or is it good even be somewhere in the middle?
Katerina McKechnie, via email
Ed: We take a holistic approach across very broad criteria looking at all aspects of the business rather than just looking at the positive product lines that they stock, such as the organic range you mention, and this makes a big difference. With regard to Sainsbury’s, we were ourselves surprised that they fared so badly in the table. To find out why, it is best to look at the points of difference between those at the top of the table and those at the bottom.
For example: Sainsbury’s score a middle rating for their environmental reporting. The top three score a best mark. It scores half marks across three categories for its use of uncertified palm oil. Waitrose for example sources 100% sustainable palm oil in own brand products. It scores a middle rating for supply chain management. Both Co-op and Marks and Spencer score a best rating. It also scores our worst rating for tax avoidance whereas the Co-op and Waitrose score best.
Having said that we always say to have a look at our Best Buy advice rather than just looking at the table to see who comes top. The table can sometime throw up anomalies that need explaining. However we do also add that using your local independent shops, especially wholefood shops, are probably the best option where available.
Veganism and ethics
Thank you for your article on chocolate, allowing people to enjoy such treats with minimal
guilt. One unavoidable issue that seems to have been overlooked however, is that a company which is wholly vegan is, de facto, more ethical than one which is not, all other factors being equal, as no
milk production is cruelty-free. I note that the vegan companies Plamil and Raw Chocolate were
top of your ethical list anyway, but they should have extra marks for being solely vegan. I feel the issues of unacceptable cruelty involved in ALL milk and egg production are too often overlooked or brushed-over, due to a lack of desire to be informed more on something which would necessarily effect one’s buying and diet choices. Ethical Consumer should be striving for the highest moral values.
Yes, free-range and organic meat, egg and milk production is better than factory farmed, but it still involves cruelty and killing and if your readers are really looking to live more ethically, then the move to vegan living is unavoidable. That is an incontrovertible truth, however unwelcome it may be to many people. One can’t pick and choose who and what are acceptable beings to abuse whilst still maintaining an ethical stance.I don’t claim to live cruelty-free myself, because in our society, everything we do and buy has a knock-on effect, but I try hard, and trying one’s best to be vegan is a start. If one is aware of the suffering of animals in all farming, then it isn’t a “lifestyle choice” as some will claim, but a moral imperative. Please would you therefore take the unnecessary and unacceptable exploitation of animals in all forms of farming into account when awarding ethical points to companies?
Andy Nash, via email
Ed: Plamil and Raw Chocolate did indeed both score an extra plus point under Company Ethos for
being solely vegan companies. Cruelty-free companies also get an extra plus point in that category.
Our ratings system marks down all retailers of meat, dairy, poultry and eggs. Companies involved in dairy farming and factory farming of animals also receive an additional negative rating. Companies can also receive various positive marks for selling vegan and vegetarian products. See our ethical ratings for definitions of all our criticism categories.
I have contacted the clothing company www.inthestyle.com which sells a line of clothing I like, which is from Lauren Pope. I asked them to provide me information on where exactly the clothes were manufactured and by which company. They replied to my email with the fact that they are made in Guangzhou, China. So I asked for the specific company name, and they said they were unable to provide this information. Do you have any idea as to why this would be? Whether they have some kind of obligation to provide the information, or any thoughts on this?
Ed: The company doesn’t have any obligation under law to provide the name supplier factories, only the country of origin. Companies view this data as commercially sensitive and rarely make it public.
We are currently working with the campaign group Fashion Revolution on a transparency ranking which we hope will help in getting companies to be more open about the factories and suppliers they use. We are due to unveil this ranking system and begin work researching companies in the coming months.