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Ethical companies and brands

Whether you’re worried about the environment, workers' or animal rights, there is a growing number of ethical companies and brands to choose from.

The world is full of brands making ethical claims. More and more companies market eco-friendly or carbon-neutral products or claim to have ethical supply chains. But sometimes, it can be hard to separate the greenwash from the genuinely ethical options.

In this article, we give our top tips for spotting a genuinely ethical brand and list some of our favourite options for clothing, banking and other sectors.

What is an ethical brand?

An ethical brand is one that puts issues like workers’ rights, protecting the environment and respecting animals at the heart of its business model.

Many brands focus on one area – for example, offering lower-carbon bank accounts or cruelty-free cosmetics that haven’t been tested on animals. For a brand to be truly ethical, though, we expect it to be taking a stance on all the basics, from paying workers fairly to tackling their greenhouse gas emissions.

Some brands claim to be ethical while having very unethical owners. For example, Vivera is a vegan food brand, but it is owned by JBS, the world’s largest meat company, which is notorious for its role in Amazon deforestation. The best brands will have ethical owners, too.

How to find an ethical brand?

With so many companies making dubious eco and ethical claims, just Googling ‘ethical brand’ may not get you far (that’s why we produce our shopping guides).

We rate and rank companies across a range of core and bespoke criteria, including:

  • their commitment to addressing their climate impacts and carbon footprint;
  • their approach to animal rights and animal welfare;
  • whether they have policies and practices in place to respect workers in their supply chains;
  • whether they are at risk of using tax avoidance strategies.

Read more about these topics in some of our articles:

Our shopping guides also give 'Best Buy' brands and recommended brands, from clothing to bank accounts to laptops.

But if you want to research a brand for yourself, here are some top tips for finding some genuinely ethical brands and avoiding greenwash.

How to check if a brand is ethical

If you want to check if a brand is ethical, there are a number of critical questions that can be useful to ask. The most ethical brands will have lots of detail about what they’re doing differently on their website.

1. Does the brand have a clear target to reduce its carbon footprint? What steps will it take to cut emissions? 

Lots of brands have set a deadline to become carbon neutral. You may want to check what concrete steps they’ve said they’ll take to get there.

Any plan should focus on the core of their business model. Lots of companies will talk about getting employees to cycle to work while ignoring the emissions from all the thousands of products they actually sell. 

We’d also recommend looking out for companies who say they’re buying carbon offsets: offsets are an easy way for companies to balance their emissions budgets, but they don’t work.

2. How is it treating its workers?

Some companies have thousands of workers in offices, factories and fields worldwide. Many of these workers will be in the company’s supply chains, rather than directly employed by them. Unfortunately, companies often do not adequately protect these workers. 

Check what policies companies have for those in their supply chains. 

Do they ensure: 

  • workers are being paid a living wage? 
  • working in safe conditions? 
  • have their right to unionise respected? 

As a general rule of thumb, the more you can find out about a company’s supply chain from its website, the better. It’s a good sign if you can find out which country – or even which factory – products were made in, as well as statements on how they ensure those workers’ rights. 

3. Does the company use animal products? Does it respect animal welfare?

There are a growing number of entirely vegan brands out there who avoid using any animal products. You can often find out if a brand is vegan in its FAQs - or by emailing them to ask. 

Unfortunately, some vegan brands are owned by companies that use vast amounts of meat and dairy in other products or test on animals. 

Our guides always list fully vegan companies and vegan brands. 

4. Does it have any certifications?

Certifications are an excellent way to be confident that a company meets higher standards. 

Most certifications focus on one area, whether ensuring a fair price for farmers like Fairtrade or avoiding animal testing like Leaping Bunny. Fairtrade, organic, Leaping Bunny and Vegan Society are all leading certifications in their fields. 

It’s a great sign if a company has more than one of these certifications or has them across all items on their website. 

If you don’t recognise the certification, you may want to check out its credentials. Some large companies like Sainsbury’s supermarket or Cadbury-owner Mondelez have introduced their own certifications. These often have lower standards than independent ones and essentially mean that the company is policing itself. 

Check out our articles on certification schemes or ethical labelling for different industries:

5. How well does it do in Ethical Consumer’s ratings?

Finding an all-round ethical brand can require a lot of research. We do this work for you. We provide an easy-to-understand ethical rating out of 100 that reflects all these questions and more. 

We also benchmark companies within their market – so that you can see how, for example, Apple and Lenovo compare. 

We also look at areas that are difficult to research as consumers. For example, we examine a company’s structure and policies to understand how likely they are to be avoiding tax. 

We always look at a whole company group – rather than just one brand within it – so you can be sure your money isn’t going to an unethical owner.

Back of person shopping in zero waste refill shop

How to be an ethical brand

If you’re trying to start or become an ethical brand, asking yourself the above questions can be a good place to begin. You might have a particular issue or concern close to your heart – for example, cutting out plastic packaging or only using natural organic ingredients. But to be more ethical, you’ll want to check your policies and practices across various areas.

We suggest drawing up a list of different possible impacts and concerns and working out your policies for each of them, for example:

  • committing to paying tax
  • sourcing from companies that you trust and have a long-term transparent relationship with
  • identifying and reducing your greenhouse gas emissions
  • paying a living wage to staff members
  • cutting down on waste and unnecessary packaging
  • avoiding animal products – or sourcing ingredients from animals with high welfare standards
  • getting Fairtrade, organic, Vegan or other certification
  • avoiding animal tested ingredients

Once you have your policies and practices, the next step is communicating them. This is good for marketing – but more importantly, it is a crucial step in allowing consumers to hold you to account. Customers can get in touch if they have spotted a gap in your policies or something they don’t like – or just to tell you you’re doing a great job!

If there is something you haven’t entirely sorted yet, be honest about that, too. Ethics is complicated, and it takes time to transition a business.

If, for example, you’re still selling products containing animal ingredients because you’re using up the last of your stock, say that on your website.

If a product component is particularly tricky to source ethically or transparently, explain this and outline the steps you’re taking to address the issue.

Do ethical brands perform better?

While it’s impossible to say that ethical brands perform better 100% of the time, there can be real material benefits to choosing more ethical options.

Ethical products are often made to last much longer than conventional ones, partly to cut down on waste. In the clothing sector, for example, fast fashion brands like Boohoo and Shein have built their business model on disposable items that break or look worn after a limited number of wears. By contrast, a well-stitched garment of good quality can last years.

In the tech sector, ethical brand Fairphone makes fully repairable mobiles, massively extending their lifespan. While the company faced some complaints about useability and breakages in its early years, its online reviews have recently improved.

Ethical brands often come with good returns, too. For years, people believed ethical investments performed less well than conventional ones. But more recently, this myth has been busted, and the consensus is that they are at least as successful (although returns are never guaranteed on any investment).

There may be other surprising benefits.

For example, many ethical cosmetics companies avoid using toxic chemicals like phthalates, parabens and triclosan. These chemicals are common in health and beauty products, and can have negative health effects at high concentrations, for example, disrupting your hormone system or acting as an irritant to skin and eyes.

Are ethical brands affordable?

Many people believe ethical brands are more expensive – and perhaps for good reason. Ethical brands often come at a higher price to reflect the fair amounts paid to their workers and suppliers and the care given to the planet. This can make them inaccessible to some consumers. For example, buying organic eggs (with the highest animal welfare standards) will cost more than getting cage-reared ones.

Ethical Consumer’s guides include handy price comparisons so you can find a more ethical option you can also afford.

In some instances, though, buying ethically may save you money. For example, switching to a flexitarian diet with just a small amount of meat and dairy could reduce your food costs by 14% and massively cut your carbon footprint.

Buying secondhand is often cheaper than buying new, particularly for good quality products, and reduces waste and other environmental impacts.

Our guide to shopping ethically on a budget can help to find some win-win solutions.

Full online access to our unique shopping guides, ethical rankings and company profiles. The essential ethical print magazine.

Before we introduce you to five top ethical companies, here's a video with an overview of five things which make a company ethical.

What makes a company ethical?

We highlight five ethical companies from clothing, vegan food, organic food, banking and tech sectors.

Two people sitting down wearing jeans and t-shirts

1. Mud Jeans – ethical jeans and clothing

Mud Jeans is focused on circular fashion, recycling and reusing materials to minimise waste. Its jeans are made from organic cotton, reducing the environmental footprint compared to conventional denim products. 

It even has a 'Lease a Jeans' scheme, where you can rent jeans instead of buying them outright, promoting a culture of sharing and reducing consumption. 

It scores very highly in our guides to jeans and ethical fashion brands.


2. Plamil – ethical vegan food products

Plamil produces vegan and organic products, including chocolate and plant-based spreads. Plamil ensures that its ingredients are sourced sustainably and actively supports fair trade practices.

Plamil scores highly in our guides to ethical chocolate and plant milks.

Bottles and jars of Mr Organic products on table

3. Mr Organic – organic food products

Mr Organic offers a wide range of organic products, from pasta sauces to canned beans.

It works closely with farmers using sustainable and ethical farming methods, ensuring its products are free from harmful chemical pesticides.

Mr Organic also supports fair trade initiatives.

The company scores highly in our guides to baked beans, olive oil, and biscuits.


4. Triodos Bank – ethical finance

Triodos Bank uses its money to create positive change. It only invests in companies and projects that positively impact society and the environment – for example, in solar panel schemes or organic farms.

It is fully transparent about where your money goes, so you can check it aligns with your values.

It's scores in our rating system are far above most financial institutions. Find out more about Triodos and other banks in our guide to current accounts, savings accounts, cash ISAs, investment funds, and more.

Fairphone front and rear display

5. Fairphone – smartphones

Fairphone has been transformative in the smartphone industry. It tries to source its materials responsibly, ensuring that more miners and workers are paid fair wages and work in safe conditions.

Fairphone also focuses on modular design, making it easier for users to repair and upgrade its phones, extending their lifespan and reducing electronic waste.

It scores highly in our guide to Mobile Phones. Check it out using the link below.

Read more about ethical and sustainable living in some of our other feature articles.