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Delivery companies

Find an ethical delivery company for parcels and restaurants/takeaways, with ratings for 9 parcel/courier companies and 3 food/restaurant delivery companies.

We look at workers' rights, environmental reporting, carbon emissions, and suggest some recommended buys.

About Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

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What to buy

What to look for when choosing a parcel, courier or food delivery company:

  • Do you really need to do online shopping or order restaurant delivery? Look at local alternatives first. Independent shops are now springing up all over Britain’s high streets. And many restaurants/takeaways have their own delivery service.

  • Did the brand receive a better rating for workers’ rights? Companies who received a better rating make minimal use of gig economy labour and have strong policies in place to protect their workforce, including full recognition of trade unions and the right for workers to engage in collective bargaining.

  • Is there a local community alternative? It’s worth looking for a local delivery alternative in your area. We feature Wings for example, a rider-owned food courier co-op in north London.

Subscribe to see which companies we recommend as Best Buys and why 

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying a washing machine:

  • Does it pay its fair share of tax? Tax avoidance is a big issue in the logistics sector, with almost all the companies in this product guide operating with offices and subsidiaries in known tax havens such as Switzerland and Luxembourg.

  • Does it have an eco plan? Delivery companies and the logistics sector in general emit large amounts of greenhouse gases, with the whole transport sector emitting about 25% of all UK greenhouse gases. See our Environment scores for the best and worst companies on reporting and reducing impacts.

Subscribe to see which companies to avoid and why

Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 20) Ratings Categories Positive Scores

Our Analysis

This new guide on delivery companies is part of our boycott Amazon series. Since 2020 Amazon has offered Amazon Shipping, a direct postal service, in the UK.

With a rise in online sales and home-delivered food, there's more use of delivery companies by small and large businesses. In addition, as more people sell items direct from their homes, customers have some choice as to which delivery company will handle their parcels.

Who's failing to deliver on ethics?

For this shopping guide we have reviewed the seven largest delivery companies in the UK and the three biggest restaurant delivery platforms.

We look at workers’ rights including the role these companies play in employing gig economy workers, the companies' environmental impacts and their carbon emissions.

Companies in the market

The UK delivery market is highly concentrated, with the top five carriers accounting for 75% of all shipments:

  • Royal Mail (35%)
  • Amazon Logistics (15%)
  • Hermes (10%)
  • UPS (8%)
  • DHL (7%)

Amazon Logistics is a new company, only launched in 2013, which has grown rapidly. Initially it only delivered Amazon’s internal parcels, but in 2020 it announced "Amazon Shipping in the UK, a new parcel pick-up and delivery service available to any business, whether they use Amazon’s e-commerce platform to sell on or not”.

Royal Mail was privatised over the period 2013-2015. The reason given for the privatisation was that money was needed to pay off the national debt (which incidentally is now almost 5% higher than it was during the financial crisis), as well as to “give the company access to private capital and improve its competitiveness”.

But the funny thing is, as in the rail sector, quite a few of Royal Mail’s competitor delivery companies are themselves state owned, just by foreign governments e.g., DPD is owned by La Poste, which is itself a French state-owned corporation. Similarly, DHL is 21% owned by KFW Group, a German government-owned development bank which is 80% owned by the Federal Republic of Germany and 20% owned by the States of Germany.

The UK delivery market

Over the last 5-10 years the market for the UK delivery sector has exploded, with the Covid-19 pandemic accelerating these already existing trends.

Graph showing internet sales increase in the last 15 years
Source: ONS

As you can see from the graph above from the ONS, since the mid-2000s the growth in online shopping has been rising at a steady rate, sharply increasing during 2020. Even after the economy had opened up again in April 2021, online shopping sales were far above their pre-pandemic peak. This, of course, means a boom in the logistics industry with delivery companies growing rapidly. High street retail shopping has correspondingly declined, even before the pandemic.

There were even bigger changes in the food delivery sector. During the lockdowns, most restaurants were forced to close. As a way to survive, they turned to online food delivery platforms such as Deliveroo, Just Eat and Uber Eats.

In total, during the pandemic the food delivery market grew by almost £4 billion, to reach over £11 billion, double its 2015 value. By far the biggest of the big three is Deliveroo, which has grown from recording revenues of around £18 million in 2015, to over £1 billion in 2020.

Overall, the number of UK food delivery users has increased from around 13 million users in 2015 to almost 25 million in 2020.

Key ethical issues for delivery companies highlighted by our research

Environmental Reporting

Quite a few of the companies did publish a full environmental/sustainability report or, at least, devoted some time to discussing their climate impacts and what they are going to do about it.

Royal Mail, DPD, DHL and Yodel earned a best rating for Environmental Reporting, while FedEx, UPS and Uber Eats scored a middle rating.

Overall, the restaurant delivery companies fared much worse, although their model is based on more deliveries being done by bicycle or moped, with Just Eat and Deliveroo all scoring a worst and Uber Eats only scoring a middle.

In fact, Deliveroo failed to have in place any sort of environmental report at all. All we could find was a blog post by the founder and CEO Will Shu, which stated that they were trying to reduce packaging by asking customers whether they wanted cutlery, were selling 'eco-packaging' on their store, and encouraging restaurants to use paper straws.

Climate change, carbon emissions and electric vehicles

No company got our best rating for Carbon Management and Reporting.

DPD, Deliveroo, Just Eat, Uber Eats and Hermes all scored a 'worst' rating.

Royal Mail, Yodel, UPS, FedEx and DHL got a middle rating, with all of them failing to get best for the same reason – their decarbonisation target wasn’t good enough, in most cases because they allowed offsetting to count towards it. DHL lost an extra half mark for a contract it had with Shell Oil.

However, many of the companies are taking steps to decarbonise, including electrifying their fleets, although this probably isn’t just idealism – the economics is starting to favour it.

Royal Mail just announced plans to add 3,000 electric vans to its fleet (of about 41,000). With its vehicles and its ‘feet on the street’ network of 90,000 postal workers, it claims to have the lowest per parcel greenhouse gas emissions of any major UK delivery company.

DPD says that 10% of its fleet is now electric and it will have 1,700 electric vans (out of about 8000) on UK roads by the end of 2021.

DHL is planning to introduce 320 more electric vans by the end of 2022. It says that 33% of its deliveries are by foot, bicycle or electric vehicle, and that it aims for its entire fleet to be electric by 2030.

UPS has ordered 10,000 electric vans, although that is to cover the United States and parts of Europe as well as the UK.

FedEx has just ordered 1000 electric vehicles, Hermes a few hundred, and it has 160 compressed natural gas vehicles, which are lower carbon than petrol or diesel, although still fossil fuelled.

Some of the companies, such as Hermes and Yodel, are also investing in real-time route optimising software to save fuel, which is good for the climate but again, is also clearly in their economic self-interest.

Excessive pay at the top

Excessive pay always looks more jarring in sectors known for poor treatment of workers. And all but Royal Mail were marked down for it.

Uber’s highest paid member of staff received $12 million in 2020, UPS $6 million, FedEx $11 million, Deutsche Post (DHL) €10 million, Roofoods (Deliveroo) £14 million.

Compared to these astronomical sums, the others look almost paltry: Advent (Hermes)'s highest paid staff member had to scrape by on a mere £4 million, Just Eat, DPD and Yodel's on just over €1 million each.

Man with cardboard boxes and van

What would an ethical delivery company look like?

Perhaps the future of delivery companies lies in local, co-operative delivery companies. Local co-ops would only deliver goods from and to the local area, making use of cargo bikes as much as possible in order to reduce the environmental impact.

For example, in Finsbury Park, North London, three former gig economy workers have banded together to form Wings, a rider-owned food courier co-op which was launched with the support of Jeremy Corbyn, the local MP. The premise of the co-op is essentially the same as Deliveroo’s, except all workers are paid the London living wage, with the number of delivery riders capped.

As the pandemic makes the appeal of commuting into busy city centres less appealing, with more and more workers set to work from home at least part-time, we may end up seeing more localised businesses opening up.

Co-operative food delivery

Earlier in 2021 the independent think tank Autonomy released a report on the potential of food delivery cooperatives, including suggestions for what government could do to support them.

It noted that in 2019 there were 11 million users of Just Eat, Uber Eats and Deliveroo in the UK alone, and that was before the explosion of the sector during the pandemic. In 2020 the number of UK Deliveroo riders more than doubled.

The report starkly criticised the extractive nature of these platform’s business models, which cut labour costs to a minimum. Riders are classified as independent contractors, with no guarantee of a minimum wage or other employment benefits, treated as only a temporary nuisance along the way to a fully automated future where these already cut costs can be eliminated.

A UK Supreme Court judgement in February 2021 forced Uber to reclassify its car drivers as ‘workers’, but this doesn’t extend to riders for UberEats. It has been estimated that the change will cost Uber $500 million, which gives you some clue how much the company was saving by withholding those workers’ rights. When UberEats was told by the court in Geneva that it had to employ its riders, it set up a third-party company to outsource its employment obligations.

A cooperative alternative could, stated Autonomy, “offer decent conditions for workers, a more equitable distribution of profits, democratic governance and ownership as well as genuine engagement with stakeholders.” This could include cooperatively run ‘ghost kitchens’ too, replacing the typical zero-hour contracts and below minimum wages that are also found there.

The UK compares pretty badly to some other European countries in terms of workers’ rights in this sector. The supreme court in Spain ruled last September that riders for the delivery company Glovo are not self-employed but employees, and workers for the big platforms in Germany are also classed as employees and paid by the hour, not by delivery.

Amongst its recommendations for government, as well as financial to legislative support, the Autonomy report proposed new urban infrastructure from rider service stations, to rest and meeting zones, cheap storage space and shared resources, and even community food halls to help embed the co-operative principles of sharing and conviviality.

Alongside the report, and in collaboration with CoopCycle and Cooperatives UK, Autonomy also published a ‘How to’ guide for setting up a food delivery cooperative. CoopCycle offers an app for worker-owned delivery businesses, and now has 67 co-ops in its “federation” from Europe to Canada and Australia. There is a great 7 min film hosted by Novara Media if you want to find out more.

The scale of the gig economy in the delivery sector

The gig economy is an umbrella term to describe the casualisation of the workforce. The growth of the UK logistics and delivery sector has coincided with its rise, which has ridden in on the UK’s relatively deregulated labour market with weak labour protections, and the rise of smartphone usage and artificial intelligence.

‘Gig’ delivery drivers and couriers are not classified as employees but rather ‘independent contractors,’ theoretically able to choose their own hours, select their own customers and enjoy a better quality of ‘flexible’ work. In practice though, this has sometimes meant workers making less than the minimum wage, enjoying none of the traditional employment protections such as sick and holiday pay, and having to work very long hours for low pay, as well as having to take on the risks of operating the business themselves e.g., paying for their own insurance, fuel, vehicle, etc.

However, there is no standardised way of working when it comes to delivery companies. Individual companies all have different ways of classifying workers, with some opting for self-employed to other delivery companies actually employing workers on secure contracts. Below, we outline some of the employment terms and conditions of different delivery companies and restaurant delivery companies. See also the feature below on Fairwork's ranking of several of the companies we have covered.

Hermes

In early 2019, the GMB successfully managed to broker a ground-breaking collective bargaining deal with Hermes.

Now, even though couriers are still self-employed, they have the option to go for self-employed plus, which brings benefits such as holiday pay (pro-rata up to 28 days), a minimum wage of least £8.55 per hour, minimum rest breaks, protection against unlawful discrimination and full GMB representation.

Royal Mail/Parcelforce

97% of Royal Mail’s workforce are on permanent contracts, with postmen and women earning 35% above the UK’s National Living Wage in 2020-21.

Royal Mail does make use of agency labour and it has an internal agency called Angard which provides sorting office workers during busy periods. But all agency workers receive the National Living Wage, with the majority receiving above the Real Living Wage, and there are opportunities to be moved onto a permanent contract.

DPD

In 2018, a DPD employee named Don Lane died after cancelling meetings with a kidney expert due to fears that he would be fined £150 if he was sick and could not find cover. This led DPD to conduct a review into their employment terms and conditions.

Now DPD drivers have the option to be employed directly by DPD, be a self-employed franchisee or become a self-employed worker. It claims that “the self-employed worker contract is designed to give drivers earnings of £28,800 a year, based on working five days a week, along with 28 annual days' holiday, a pension and sick pay”. However, whether the new system is better is controversial.

Yodel

At Yodel drivers have the option to be self-employed or employed directly by Yodel. Self-employed drivers pay their own fuel and insurance, and either own or lease their own vehicle. Payment is per parcel, and drivers get the option to decline deliveries.

Employees are paid a set salary on a monthly basis and are provided with a Yodel uniform and vehicle. They are required to work on a shift basis, with full or part-time shifts available, and around 100 parcels to be delivered per shift. Yodel aims to give shift patterns 12 weeks in advance.

UPS

According to an online job advert, UPS delivery drivers are directly employed by the company, not through an agency. The working week is a minimum of 40 hours, plus paid overtime as and when required. The hourly rate is £12.46 per hour increasing after 6 and 12 months respectively, with a company pension, holiday pay and 20 days paid holiday.

Just Eat

According to the official website, Just Eat couriers can earn up to £10.20 per hour with paid holiday. If couriers start working from their local hub, they will be provided with an insured pushbike, e-bike or moped. There is also a company bonus scheme, pension contributions and both part- and full-time contracts with flexible shifts.

FedEx

According to an online job advert seen at the time of writing, FedEx couriers have a scheduled work week of 45 hours with an hourly pay rate of £12.07. No other information could be found.

DHL, Uber Eats, and Deliveroo

No information could be found on the employment terms and conditions of DHL, Uber Eats or Deliveroo delivery drivers.

Decline of the high street = more unionised large workplaces

Given the amount of media attention afforded to high street decline during the last five years, it would be easy to think that this is one of the most pressing issues facing modern Brits. After all, we all have fond memories of walking down the high street with friends, going shopping with mum on a Saturday etc … Its decline and the subsequent proliferation of charity shops, betting shops and takeaways that so many high streets are now imbued with, has become a symbol of decline and deprivation across the UK more generally.

We discuss some of the pros and cons of online and offline shopping in our shopping guide to ethical online retailers.

However, there is another side to the story here.

For decades, the trade union movement has struggled to unionise the retail sector. The numerous atomised shops with comparatively small workforces had some of the lowest unionisation rates, hovering around the 10 - 12.5% mark.

By contrast the Communication Workers Union, which predominantly represents Royal Mail Workers, the largest UK carrier of parcels by volume, has a membership of 196,000, with 11,000 at Royal Mail (out of a workforce of 162,000). Royal Mail pay and conditions are much better than those of retail workers, with Christmas casuals and agency staff starting off at a minimum hourly rate of £9.50 per hour, going up to £12 and over after 12 weeks of continuous service. By contrast, the average retail worker’s hourly wage is £7.80.

However, this is not to say that the delivery sector is an amazing one to work in and has really good working conditions. Royal Mail is an outlier as it is a traditional workplace that has had a union since at least the early 20th century and, up until 2013, was a nationalised industry. On the other hand, other parcel carriers are not traditional workplaces with a long history of trade union recognition and collective bargaining agreements. This means workers have to organise themselves, which can be a very difficult thing to do.

All is not lost though as unions have been focusing a lot of effort into unionising the delivery sector and workers are fighting back against bad bosses and exploitative working conditions.

For example, the GMB union represent both Yodel and Hermes delivery drivers, as well as making efforts to unionise Amazon workers in the UK. Right now, delivery drivers at Yodel are embroiled in a dispute with their employer, and in September 2021 voted to strike, which could affect deliveries for Marks & Spencer, Very and Aldi.

There is a similar situation in South Korea with the Delivery Workers Union, and 2,100 members of the Parcel Delivery Workers' Solidarity Union protested during the month of June 2021.

And let’s not forget that last year Amazon workers at its warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama spent a year trying to organise and get a yes vote to force the company to collectively bargain with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). Ultimately those efforts failed, but it does not mean the workers won’t try again.

It may be that we are hearing more about the struggles and exploitative working conditions of the delivery drivers because they are fighting back.

Fairwork's ranking of labour standards in the gig economy

A global collaboration to try to improve labour standards in the gig economy has recently published rankings for 11 UK companies. Rob Harrison looks at the how the project works and compares their rankings to those at Ethical Consumer.

Chart rating delivery companies by Fairwork UK
Fairwork - UK scorecard. Scores are out of 10. Pedal Me is a bike-taxi and cargo company operating only in London. Stuart is a food delivery company. Amazon Flex is where you deliver parcels for Amazon using your own vehicle.

Fairwork's ratings

The Office of National Statistics estimated that, in 2017, at least 4.4% of the UK population, or about 2.8 million people, worked in the platform economy. (The platform economy is a subset of the gig economy where online 'platforms' are used to distribute and pay for the tasks.)

The poor labour standards inherent in 'gig' employment (paid piecework for each trip or action or ‘gig’) that have been the cause of strikes, protests and other complaints globally, have been well documented (see above).

One project aiming to make a contribution is 'Fairwork', a collaboration of universities around the world that have begun to issue reports ranking gig economy companies against a set of labour standards.

In 2019, it published rankings of gig economy companies in South Africa and India, and has, since then, published four more on companies in Germany, Ecuador, Chile and the UK.

We can see from the table (above) that it is looking beyond the parcel and food delivery companies that we have reviewed in our guide, to take in other common piecework areas. These are:

  • TaskRabbit (home repairs, cleaning, etc)
  • Helpling (cleaning)
  • Ride-hailing/taxi services: Ola, Bolt and Uber.

Conclusions from UK research

Fairwork now use five 'core principles 'and their findings under each principle for the UK research are as follows:

  1. Fair Pay: No platform guarantees that workers earn at least the local living wage after costs. Only Pedal Me and Just Eat could evidence that all workers are guaranteed earnings equal to or above the UK minimum wage.
  2. Fair Conditions: Only five provide workers with an effective safety net.
  3. Fair Contracts: Five platforms were able to evidence that they provide clear and transparent terms and conditions. Only two platforms, Pedal Me and Just Eat, evidenced that their contracts do not exempt the platform from liability.
  4. Fair Management: Four platforms were able to evidence that they provide a fair system of due process for decisions affecting workers. But only two, Pedal Me and Deliveroo, could evidence that they provide equity in the management process.
  5. Fair Representation: Only one platform – Pedal Me – committed to implementing a mechanism that facilitates the expression of workers’ collective voice.

Of the food delivery companies that appear on our score table and in Fairwork’s ranking, there is consistency with how they rate above and below each other. Amazon scores 0 on both rankings.

Is there a role for consumers?

Fairwork says:

"By raising awareness of the conditions of gig workers in the UK and across the world, we aim to assist workers, consumers and regulators in making platforms accountable for their practices and creating a world of fair platform work. The low scores of many popular platforms in the Fairwork UK league table clearly demonstrates the need for regulatory reform and enforcement to ensure gig workers are no longer falling through the cracks."

However, it goes on to note that organisations like universities, schools, businesses, and charities who make use of platform labour can also help to make a difference. They have the option to sign up to 'pledges' which mean making a public commitment to implement changes such as committing to using better-rated platforms when there is a choice.

A model for others to follow?

The practice of ranking companies against ethical issues to try to drive change, like Ethical Consumer does, originated with investor and consumer groups in the UK and USA in the 1980s. Since then, its impact has meant that this approach has also become adopted by charities and campaign groups everywhere.

The Fairwork project is unusual in that we can see this approach being adopted by universities. It has scaled internationally very well and offers an interesting model for other interventions of this type in the academic sector. Fairwork are now beginning to show evidence of the project's impact, particularly in South Africa, where the rankings have now been published annually for three years in a row.

More information from fairwork.org. Read the full report 'Fairwork UK Ratings 2021: Labour Standards in the Gig Economy' online.

Poor working conditions internationally - South Korean example

Online shopping and the growth of the delivery and logistics sector is not just confined to the UK, it is a globally growing market, particularly with Covid-19.

In South Korea it is not uncommon for delivery drivers to work 14+ hours a day, 6 days a week. Since the start of the pandemic, unions say 21 delivery drivers have died from overwork, which has become so common there is even a work for it, 'gwarosa'.

Coupang, which is South Korea’s answer to Amazon, has a service called Rocket Delivery and, just like Amazon in the UK (UK workforce of 55,000), it is one of the largest employers in Korea. In October last year, one of Coupang’s workers, Jang Deok-Joon, died of a heart attack aged just 27. The company insisted it had nothing to do with this, but after a month-long campaign by his parents, the government officially ruled it death by overwork.

For more information on South Korea’s delivery drivers and their fight for better working conditions, watch this documentary on YouTube.

Companies behind the brands

Food delivery

Deliveroo has fast become the UK’s most popular food delivery app, with the Covid-19 pandemic swelling its already large customer base. You would think then that the company is swimming in money and making vast amounts of profits. Well, actually no. While the pandemic increased demand for restaurant delivery apps, the largest of the big three, Deliveroo, is failing to make any profit.

This has not stopped Amazon from investing £575 million into Deliveroo (an 11.5% stake), and it doesn’t definitely mean that Deliveroo is not a viable business. Up until very recently, Amazon too was a continuous loss-making enterprise, investing everything into achieving market dominance. Perhaps Deliveroo is following the same business model.

Parcels

Hermes in the UK is 75% owned by Advent International, a global private equity firm which owns dozens of other companies in Europe, North America, Latin America and Asia, spanning activities from cyanide and plastics production, to military communications equipment.

Recently, Advent International embarked on a takeover of defence-technology specialist Ultra Electronics Holdings Plc. This proposal was at least temporarily blocked by the British government over national security concerns, as the firm has a key role in producing sonars and electronics for Britain’s nuclear submarines.

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If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table. 

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