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Mainstreaming Ethical Consumption Conference 2015

Oct 5

Written by:
05/10/2015 12:30  RssIcon

Round- up of our recent event

In late September, we held our third annual conference at the Amnesty International Resource Centre in London.

The event was attended by around 200 hundred delegates from around the UK and Europe and was our biggest conference to date.

The day began with an opening address from Ethical Consumer founder Rob Harrison on ethical consumption in the age of austerity.


Rob Harrison.


He spoke about the state of the ethical market covering three broad topics:

  • The Ethical Consumer Markets Report
  • Understanding price and ethical products
  • Future trends in the ethical market

The markets report

Firstly, he outlined how sales since 1999 of ethical products have grown  far faster than the rest of the economy (at more than 10% per year). He explained that this fast growth is best achieved by government intervention to encourage the sales of less damaging products. (Giving examples of the The FIT scheme and microgeneration and sales of A-rated tax band cars).

In addition, he commented that very fast growth can also be achieved when big companies choose to accredit best-selling products for example in the case of Nestlé and the Fairtrade Kit Kat, M&S adopting the Leaping Bunny or Sainsbury's selling Fairtrade bananas.

Price and Ethics

On price, he acknowledged that ethical products are rarely the cheapest products available, but just as rarely are they the most expensive.  He asked the audience to consider a shirt from Primark, People Tree and Armani. Or a Rolls Royce, a Prius and a Skoda.


Future trends


Finally, Rob outlined some future trends. Firstly that an ethical narrative around products was becoming the norm – as evidenced in the tea industry. Secondly, that companies will get better at marketing ethical products and finally that companies will increasingly understand the moral arguments for lobbying for good.

In conclusion he stated that:

  • 'Austerity' (managed inequality) has not affected the growth of ethical consumer behaviours in the UK.
  • This is because they are not 'nice to have' luxuries but proven solutions for politically engaged citizens.
  • To properly understand ethical markets requires a notion of citizenship and political action.



Listen to Rob's speech in full 



Rob was followed by a panel discussing ethical labelling and accreditation

The panel included:

  • Barbara Crowther, Director of policy and public affairs at the Fairtrade Foundation: Taking on the Reputational Challenge
  • Vivian Woodell, Chief Executive of The Phone Co-op: The value of independent ethical accreditation?
  • Carla Tavares, Marketing Manager from FSC: discusses the finer points of the organisations recent re-branding strategy.
  • Amy Jackson, Senior Credibility Manager at the ISEAL Alliance: How the labelling sector can maintain standards and consumer confidence.


Panel discussing ethical labelling



Barbara from Fairtrade talked about the need to manage expectations of consumers about what they can achieve as a organisation. While they have helped make a lot of progress on workers' rights and pay in a lot of sectors, the reality of the situation on the ground often differs from the public expectation. There is also sometimes a gap between what is required and what this means in terms of delivery.


Barbara Crowther from the Fairtrade Foundation. 

Alternative Hedonism

This panel was followed by one of the key note speakers, academic and Professor of Philiosophy Kate Soper. She spoke about the need to:

  • Seek to advance alternative ideas on time expenditure and the ‘work-life’ balance.
  • Be concerned not only to encourage fair trade but also to reduce consumption altogether.
  • Advocate much greater equality and global justice as conditions, not only of sustainability, but of personal pleasure and well-being.

She advocated a type of alternative hedonism, a theory that supposes that:

"... even if consumerism were sustainable it would not enhance happiness beyond a point already reached new forms of desire rather than fears of ecological disaster are likely to have most impact on any move towards more sustainable modes of consuming that sustainable ethic and politics should appeal, not only to altruistic compassion and environmental concern, but also to the self-regarding gratifications of consuming differently."

Discussion groups

People then broke for discussion groups on:

Sustainable Palm Oil; The Boycotts, Divestment and Sanction movement; Tax Justice; Ethical labelling; Reducing consumption.


Discussion group: Reducing consumption


You can find notes on each of these discussions and continue the debate on our forums >

Campaigning business

Next up was our second key note speaker, Hilary Jones from Lush Cosmetics. Hilary spoke about what it means to be a campaigning business. She talked about Lush's support for marginal groups that were often neglected by the mainstream and about her and the company's passion for animal rights especially in regard to animal testing in the cosmetic industry. She said that, “social justice, animal rights and environment are the fibre of the business.”


 Hilary Jones, LUSH Cosmetics


Ethics at scale

The final panel of the day discussed ethics at scale and included contributions from:

  • Charlotte Borger, Director of Communications, Divine Chocolate.
  • Bob Cannell, Member of SUMA workers co-operative (the largest workers co-op in the UK) and Director of Co-ops UK.
  • Huw Davies, Head of Personal Banking, Sales and Marketing at Triodos Bank
  • Clare McDermott, Business Development Director at the Soil Association
  • Tessa Wernick, Director of Communications at Fairphone.


Tessa Wernick, Fairphone. 

Each delegate spoke about the challenges their organisations had faced when working at scale. These included reputational risks working with large corporates, meeting the expectation of consumers, finding the right messaging and keeping the quality of products high. 


Head to the Forums now for more information on the discussion groups >


Our twitter was kept busy on the day with some great feedback from consumers and businesses enjoying the conference:


Leave your own feedback #ethical2015





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