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New Rating Categories at Ethical Consumer

Jan 11

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11/01/2017 17:56  RssIcon

Palm oil and controversial technologies in the spotlight

Ethical Consumer’s ethiscore rankings in our Product Guides are calculated by comparing company performance across 19 different areas such as Human Rights, Climate Change and Factory Farming.

Although we are always tinkering with what constitutes a best rating, these 19 categories have remained unchanged since September 2006.  Over the years though, technologies and supply chains change, and consumer campaigning moves with this.  Occasionally this means that Ethical Consumer needs to modify its categories and in January 2017 we are announcing three such changes.  

  • We are retiring ‘Nuclear Power’ as a stand-alone column in the Environment group of categories.
  • We are creating a new rating category called ‘Palm Oil’ in the Environment group of categories.
  • We are creating a new category called ‘Controversial Technologies’ in the ‘Politics’ group of categories.

Moving the Nuclear Power category

The explosive growth in renewables over the last few years, and the Fukushima nuclear accident, has sounded the death-knell for nuclear power. As green alternatives become much cheaper to produce, nuclear power has become increasingly uncompetitive - even with huge subsidies for end-of-life 'waste management'. In Europe almost no-one is looking to build new nuclear capacity, with the UK's strange, but surely impractical, obsession over Hinkley C the exception.

With this in mind we are retiring Nuclear Power as a stand-alone column. Nuclear power involvement will continue to be tracked in the new 'Controversial Technologies' column (see below).

This reduction in the exposure we'll be giving the issue on our ranking tables reflects the success campaigners – and common sense – have had in defeating this dangerous, environmentally damaging and costly fuel source.  The last time Ethical Consumer retired a category in this way – as societies moved on – was in 1993 when the South Africa boycott over apartheid was ended and so we retired the ‘South Africa’ column.

New Palm Oil category

Palm oil is an ingredient used in thousands of products from chocolate to shampoo. However, the mass production of palm oil is devastating the world's rainforests as well as being linked to human rights abuses.

Ethical Consumer has been ranking company performance on palm oil for over 15 years now.  Until now companies have picked up marks in three categories for this issue (Habitats, Climate and Human Rights) and we feel that this has become a clumsy way of representing what is now a key concern for many ethical consumers.

We know from our own website that there is real demand for clear and concise rankings on palm oil, and we hope that by creating a stand alone column for this issue – in line with the rankings we have done with the Rainforest Foundation – we'll be able to better offer this.

Ethical Consumer will use information sourced from companies' Corporate Social Responsibility communications, responses to our questionnaires and/or their latest Annual Communication on Progress (ACOP) to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

Companies able to demonstrate a fully certified supply chain for all palm ingredients used by the whole company group, and who also declare suppliers and volumes will receive a best rating. Companies that are palm oil free - using neither palm oil (CPO), palm kernel oil (PKO) nor palm derivatives -  will also receive a best rating. 

New Controversial Technologies category

Ethical Consumer is creating a new category called Controversial Technologies. This category will bring together three areas we already rate companies under:

  • Nuclear Power
  • Genetic Engineering
  • Nanotechnology

While some argue that all three technologies pose risks to humans and the environment, for others the issues are less of a concern.  Subscribers will be able to click on the dots on the expanded product tables to read more detail about what a particular company is being criticised for.

Under Nuclear Power, companies will be marked down for being involved in managing nuclear power plants or providing services to the nuclear power industry. Those energy companies where more than 5% of their energy mix comes from nuclear power will also lose marks under this category.

Under Genetic Engineering, companies will be marked down if they are involved in the manufacture or sale of non-medical products likely to contain GMOs (genetically modified organisms); lack of a clear company wide GMO free policy or publicly support the use of GMOs in non-medical products. Those involved in the following: the non-medical genetic modification of plants or animals; gene patenting; and xenotransplantation will also receive criticism under this category.

Nanotechnology is controversial because it remains unclear what long-term effects many nano-particles – used in a range of products from suncreams to tennis balls – will have on humans and the environment.


The changes have been made to all the 150 guides on our website. The guides in the next issue of the magazine will also feature these changes. We will be covering Shampoo, Toothpaste, Make-up and Laundry Detergents, products where the use of palm oil is prevalent. It is due out in mid February.








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