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Ethical Online Shopping

Find ethical online shops with our research and ratings for 18 retailers.

We look at the UK ethical shopping market, product ranges, eBay, how to avoid Amazon, environmental issues, and whether it is ethical to shop online.

About Ethical Consumer

This is a shopping 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 an ethical online retailer:

  • Does it encourage reuse? Support retailers that sell second-hand, refurbished, recycled, and upcycled items. Even the most ethically manufactured ‘new’ products have an environmental cost.


  • Does it address sector-specific issues? Pick companies that have clear, ethical policies. If they sell furniture, they should have a timber policy. Look for lists of banned toxic and pollutant substances from companies that retail personal care products. Regardless of the sector, companies should also be taking steps to protect workers’ rights in their supply chains.

  • Is it a charity? Use your consumer power to support charitable causes that are important to you.


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

What not to buy

What to avoid when choosing an ethical online retailer:

  • Is it only slightly ethical? Avoid products that only meet vague ethical criteria. Look instead for those which meet high standards on workers’ rights and a range of environmental issues.

  • Is it all about the branding? Look beyond the name and the marketing and read up on what the company is doing on the issues that matter to you.

  • Avoid next-day delivery if you don’t need it. Expectations of ultrafast delivery increasingly fill our roads with half-empty delivery trucks.

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Score table

Updated live from our research database

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Brand Score(out of 100) Ratings Categories

Our Analysis

Ethical online shopping in the UK 

This guide to ethical online retailers is part of our Amazon Alternatives series, designed to help you avoid using Amazon where possible. All of the brands in this guide are better alternatives to Amazon, so although there are some brands who score much lower down the table, all of them have more ethical credentials than Amazon.

Our previous online retailers guide came out in November 2021, just as the Omicron variant threatened to shake up the dust that was still settling from previous lockdowns. Two years later and online spending remains high, with 56% of UK consumers stating that they spend more online than they did pre-pandemic and that they’ll continue to do so. Amazon’s expansion too shows no signs of slowing, but its attempts to clean up its act are too little, too late. It’s crucial that we support alternatives that are, if not fully ethical, at least less harmful.

It’s possible that Amazon’s market successes and ethical failures can be attributed to the same thing – its monopolistic ambition to sell absolutely anything. Can an ethical retailer reasonably hope to compete with Amazon’s sheer scale of product availability without compromising somewhere down the line? Different sectors come with their own ethical challenges, and, as people trying to live ethically will know, even sustainably minded companies often fall short in their chosen specialisms. Being an ethical generalist is no small task.

Moreover, Amazon Prime has basically trained consumers into thinking of free, fast shipping as an additional human right. Smaller companies are forced into competing on Amazon’s terms, but generally lack the logistics networks to do so cost effectively.

As such, many smaller and more ethical online alternatives have collapsed since we first published this guide nearly a decade ago. Traidcraft, a Fairtrade pioneer since 1979, went into administration in January 2023, and previous Best Buy Wearth has now merged with Veo.

The ethical online shops in this guide

Most of the ethical alternatives in this guide are not generalists in the sense that Amazon is, and none of them can compete with the Bezos machine in terms of convenience. We have tried instead to cover as many of Amazon’s main product areas as possible: the accordion list of brands below outlines what each company sells.

We have many other shopping guides for particular products like clothes or food, so for this guide we’ve primarily selected companies that straddle a number of sectors, but a few are more specialised – Richer Sounds and Back Market focus on electronics, while Green Stationery does what it says on the (stationery) tin.

Others are attached to charities: Viva!, the Amnesty Shop, and Oxfam use their retail arms to raise funds for their charitable and advocacy work. Social Supermarket, Veo, Shared Earth, and the Ethical Shop promote suppliers that are themselves either charities or social enterprises, and offer a wide range of fair trade goods.

We’ve included the lower-scoring John Lewis, Etsy, and eBay because they are somewhat nearer to competing with Amazon’s sheer breadth of product options. Whilst they each face their fair share of ethical issues, they easily remain better than Bezos. John Lewis remains employee owned and has significantly better supply-chain and environmental policies in place than its primary competitors, whilst Etsy and eBay facilitate the sale of handmade and secondhand items on a global scale.

How ethical are Ethical Superstore, Natural Collection and Spirit of Nature?

Three brands, Ethical Superstore, Natural Collection, and Spirit of Nature, all score reasonably well in this guide but don't quite make it to being recommended. Why is that? These brands are owned by Spark Etail, and Whistl is the ultimate owner of Spark Etail.

Spark Etail also manages the elements of the Amnesty Shop that aren’t actually Amnesty branded.

Whistl itself is primarily a logistics company, and it doesn’t work exclusively with ethical alternatives. For example, the company collaborated with fast-fashion monster Shein on a door-drop promotional campaign in 2020.

But Whistl's ethical retail wing has good policies in place, and the slightly lower marks for these brands are largely due to the wider company group. All these brands are much better alternatives to Amazon.

What the online shops sell

Organic and fair trade cotton clothing and Amnesty-branded merchandise

Wide range of organic and/or fair trade groceries, snacks, and drinks

Wide range of bodycare and cleaning products. Good approach to toxics, ‘no animal testing’ policy.

Small fair trade selection of jewellery.

Human rights/environmentthemed books, games, toys diaries, cards

Home and garden products

Wide range of refurbished phones, laptops, games consoles and audio equipment

Wide range of bodycare and cleaning products. Good approach to toxics, ‘no animal testing’ policy.

Beauty gift boxes.

Wide range of clothing and bedding. No cotton policy but organic and fair trade available.

Wide range of food, organic and fair trade available.

Wide range of bodycare and cleaning products. No policies on toxic chemicals or animal testing.

Wide range of jewellery, gifts, books, toys/games.

Wide range of new and second hand electrical goods.

Small clothing range.

Range of organic and/or fair trade groceries, chocolate and drinks.

Small range of bodycare and cleaning products.

Small range of fair trade jewellery.

Social /political books, diaries, toys.

Home and garden items.


Wide range of clothing and bedding but lacks cotton policy.

Range of personal care and beauty products, no toxics policy.

Wide range of jewellery, no sustainable sourcing policy.

Wide range of craft items and suppliers of gifts, books, toys, games etc.

Small range of household electronics.

Tea, coffee, sugar, some fair trade and organic.

Professional cleaning supplies, brands listed as or known to be cruelty-free or ‘no animal testing’.

Recycled notebooks, paper, card, and storage items. Specialises in recycled paper.

Range of eco-packaging materials.

Poor cotton policy overall, but wide range of organic cotton clothing and bedding available.

Wide range of food and drink through Waitrose. Good detail on animal welfare. Sells meat.

Wide range of bodycare and cleaning products. No policy on toxics, good policy on animal testing for own-brand products but sells other brands known to test on animals.

Wide range of jewellery. Unclear policy on responsible sourcing.

Wide range of gifts, books and toys.

Wide range of electrical products.

Wide range of furniture and white goods.

Only secondhand clothes.

Fairtrade and some organic food and drink.

Small range of soaps and cleaning products from brands with ‘no animal testing’ policies and lists of excluded toxics.

Wide range of secondhand jewellery

Wide range of secondhand including books, gifts and toys/games including collectables.

Small range of secondhand electrical goods.


Wide range of audio equipment, TVs, and accessories.

Small range of organic and fair trade clothing & bedding accessories.

Small range of soaps and shampoos.

Fair trade jewellery.

Fair trade ornaments and accessories.

Range of fair trade home and garden items.

No cotton policy but all clothing sold GOTS (organic) certified or labelled organic.

Groceries, drinks, chocolate, some organic and/or fair trade.

Wide range of bodycare and cleaning products. Good approach to toxics, though policy not publicly available. No products tested on animals but unclear policy on ingredients.

Fair trade jewellery and some from recycled materials.

Wide range of hampers from social enterprises.

Majority organic cotton clothes/bedding.

Wide range of organic, vegan or fair trade food and drink.

Wide range of bodycare and cleaning products. Good approach to toxics, 'no animal testing’ policy.

Jewellery from recycled materials and fair trade available.

Large range of gifts and toys and including recycled plastic toys.

Ethical Superstore has a small range of energy-efficient household electronics

Separate websites: Ethical Superstore; Natural Collection; Spirit of Nature

Good cotton policy, certified organic or upcycled cotton.

Vegan groceries, drinks and chocolate.

Wide range of bodycare and cleaning products. Good approach to toxics, no animal testing’ policy.

Wide range of jewellery, including fair trade and upcycled.

Range of sustainable gifts and reusable gift wrap.

Organic cotton Viva! branded merchandise.

Vegan sweets and snacks, vegan wine, spirits and beer.

Small range of jewellery.

Sells books, toys, and 'adopt an animal' schemes

What do retailers mean by ethical?

Most of the brands' websites in this guide are laden with references to ethics, values, and purpose. Many products are labelled with ethical criteria, and shoppers can often use these criteria as a search filter.

We recommend choosing criteria with clear definitions and external verification, such as organic or Fairtrade.

Apply a healthy scepticism to less clear criteria, like ‘sustainable’, ‘eco-conscious’ or ‘economic empowerment’.

If a website isn’t explaining precisely what these terms mean, they could mean very little at all. Ethical Superstore has a wide range of search criteria, ranging from the vague e.g. ‘sustainable’, to the precise: ‘Fairtrade certified’, ‘GOTS’ (organic certification for cotton) and ‘recycled’.

Many retailers only require that their products comply with one ethical criterion. Whilst we understand that perceptions of ethics are partially subjective, it feels like a reach to give consumers a choice between different values – some flimsy, some concrete – and presenting any purchase option as an ‘ethical’ decision.

Company-wide ethical policies preferred

We’d prefer to see companies commit to concrete, company-wide policies and do the hard work of enforcing them throughout their entire supply chains. There should be a high bar for companies that call themselves ethical.

Allowing weak criteria on the basis of ‘providing consumer choice’ feels less like an ethical choice, and more like a marketing strategy.

Many brands in this guide do have a baseline standard for all products that covers a range of environmental issues as well as workers’ rights. Shared Earth and Veo’s sustainability criteria are detailed and available on their websites and are applied to every product that they retail. Other positive approaches include Big Green Smile – which stands out for its strict animal-testing policy and extensive list of banned toxics and pollutants – and Viva!, which is vegan only.

If you agree that company-wide policies are better, only select products that meet the highest standards, and let your favourite retailers know why you’re doing this.

Extra points for ethos

Ethical Consumer is proud to be a cooperative, and we firmly believe that a move away from shareholder capitalism is needed if humanity is to weather our ongoing environmental and social storms. We gave company ethos marks to John Lewis and Richer Sounds for being employee owned, and to Oxfam, Amnesty, and Viva! for being registered charities.

As an employee-owned business, John Lewis does not currently have outside investors. However, there have been reports that is considering selling a minority stake to external shareholders, having faced a loss of £230m in 2022 amid staff cuts and scrapped bonuses.

Finding alternatives to Amazon

This guide is part of our alternatives to Amazon series, to help you find more ethical online retailers than Amazon. With the potential lost tax revenue from Amazon's tax avoidance around half a billion pounds just for 2021 in the UK, it’s more important than ever that we resist the temptations of Amazon.

How do other online retailers compare to Amazon?

Amazon loses marks in every category that we cover but has received particular attention for its approaches to tax, workers’ rights, and the environment.

We’ve looked at how the other companies in this guide fare on these issues. Unsurprisingly, in most cases, the answer is better. There are only 2 marks between the top 14 companies in this guide. Even the bigger companies of eBay, Etsy and John Lewis fare better than Amazon.

Amazon Boycott campaign

For almost a decade Ethical Consumer has being calling for a boycott of Amazon over its tax avoidance which costs the UK millions in public funds every year, but it is also widely criticised for workers’ rights issues and its monopoly over many markets.

We have seen resistance to Amazon grow over time. Not only have we been joined by Fair Tax Mark, Tax Justice Network and others in condemning the company’s tax record, we’ve seen workers, unions, anti-racism organisations, anti-gentrification movements and others raise voices against Amazon globally.

By boycotting the company, we are taking part in this global movement and building the pressure for Amazon – or the legislation that allows its abuses – to change.

As this guide shows, there are alternatives out there, which, as well as simply not being Amazon, also deliberately offer a more ethical selection of products, or even fund campaigning through their sales.

We’ve tried to make sure that the ethical retailers included in this guide cover most of what you might use Amazon for, so you have options for where to spend your money.

Which is more ethical: eBay versus Amazon

EBay received a worst rating in some major categories, including supply chain management and likely use of tax avoidance strategies. It received a middle rating for environmental reporting and a worst rating for carbon management and reporting. However, in its favour, eBay facilitates the sale of secondhand items much more than Amazon.

eBay’s Ethiscore is 5.5, which is 5.5 more than Amazon.

Admittedly, you might conclude that eBay is a pretty feeble ethical alternative to Amazon. However, in our opinion, the sheer scale of Amazon’s likely tax avoidance strategies, its mistreatment of workers, its rapacious acquisitions of competitors, and its abuse of market power in relation to sellers, consumers and other smaller retailers, makes it a much more malign influence on the world than eBay.

So, whilst we recommend that you favour the other more ethical online retailers in this guide, plus your local shops, using eBay occasionally, when it’s the only alternative to Amazon, and when you buy secondhand, is still a decent ethical choice.

Online retailers and the climate

Amazon likes to present itself as a climate crusader and touts its massive investments in renewable energy and electric delivery vehicles as evidence of its righteousness. However, take a look at what the company leaves unsaid (and unreported), and a rather different picture begins to form.

According to the ‘Amazon Employees for Climate Justice’ group, the company is failing its own 2019 pledge to be net-zero by 2040. Its emissions have instead increased by almost 40% since then, according to its most recent sustainability report.

The company claims that this is simply because it doubled the size of the fulfilment network throughout 2021 to accommodate increased demand, and that it has become more carbon efficient overall. Unfortunately, when growth outstrips efficiency, climate targets become impossible to reach.

Just three companies received our best rating for carbon reporting: Etsy, Green Stationery, and Shared Earth. But Back Market, Big Green Smile, Ethical Shop, Green Stationery, Shared Earth, Veo, and Viva! were all deemed to be providing genuine environmental alternatives and received our best rating for environmental reporting.

Every option is this guide is better than Amazon on packaging. The company has been making progress – it's reduced the average weight of its packaging by 41% since 2015 – but it continues to use large amounts of non-recyclable plastic.

What are ethical online retailers doing about tax and supply chain issues?

Tax avoidance

Tax avoidance in e-commerce is not exclusively an Amazon problem. According to a study from UNI Global Union, e-commerce companies are likely to pay three times less corporate income tax than large bricks-and-mortar retail chains. The two large e-commerce companies in this guide, eBay and Etsy, also received our worst rating for the likely use of tax avoidance strategies.

According to the Guardian, Etsy paid just £128,000 in UK corporation tax in 2020 despite £160m in sales, having funnelled most of those sales through Irish subsidiaries. TaxWatch’s George Turner commented: “Despite Etsy’s ethical pretensions, it is in fact just another US tech company using the same tax structures as other US tech companies to move profit out of the UK and into tax haven Ireland.”

On the other end of the spectrum, Richer Sounds’ long-standing accreditation by the Fair Tax Mark demonstrates the company’s transparent approach to tax, as well as its commitment to shunning tax-avoidance schemes.

Workers’ rights in the supply chain

Most small companies in this guide are exclusively retailers, and don’t manufacture or license any own-brand products. Their supply-chain policies are, as such, more focused on ensuring good purchasing practices, such as prioritising fair trade or organic products.

The Ethical Shop lists and provides information about every supplier that it uses on its website. The Big Green SmileEthical Shop, Shared Earth and Veo all had detailed supply chain policies considering their size.

Of the larger companies, only Oxfam, Richer Sounds, and John Lewis received our best rating in the category, whilst eBay and Etsy both scored a worst. The latter two present themselves as mere marketplaces, so take limited responsibility for the ethics of items that are sold on their platforms. For example, Etsy’s ‘ethical expectations’ document states that it can’t “guarantee the conditions under which products listed for sale on Etsy were made”.

Amazon’s groceries department was surveyed for the first time this year by the Groceries Code Adjudicator, which collects accusations of supplier code of conduct violations. Almost 12% of surveyed suppliers said Amazon “never” complied with the code, whilst a further 30% said it rarely did. The company was the worst performing grocer in the survey – with nearly four times as many alleged violations as the next on the list, Lidl.

Conversely, the John Lewis-owned Waitrose was second from the top with 98% of suppliers stating that it ‘consistently’ or ‘mostly’ adhered to the code of conduct.

Cartoon of Amazon delivery vans all stuck in traffic
Cartoon by Mike Bryson

What about delivery drivers?

Another ethical concern for e-commerce companies is how to protect workers’ rights in their logistics and delivery chains.

Instead of employing staff directly, many e-commerce companies use ‘independent’ contractors – such as Amazon’s delivery drivers. Amazon’s “delivery service partners” are classed as self-employed, so are not guaranteed even basic employee rights such as the minimum wage or holiday pay.

The other major logistics company in the guide, Whistl, employs its drivers directly, and John Lewis does for some larger items, but for smaller items will use various couriers.

You can read more about delivery companies in a separate guide.

Is shopping online better for the planet?

Conventional wisdom has often dictated that shopping online has a lower environmental impact than its high street counterpart. A 2013 MIT study found bricks-and-mortar shopping to have double the carbon footprint of its online shopping. The primary logic is such: transporting customers to physical shops in cars is resource intensive, whilst delivery systems are optimised for efficiency. This picture looks more complex a decade later.

Delivery systems now feel optimised less for efficiency and more for the ever-increasing expectations of customers who want same-day shipping that’s free at the point of purchase, alongside essentially infinite returns. When dealing with a one-day shipping window, companies often send out half-filled trucks, generating more traffic and thus emissions. One-in-three items bought online are returned, compared to a 9% return rate at physical shops.

Interestingly, all the carbon-comparison studies we found were from the US, where non-online shopping often revolves around car-centric, suburban shopping malls. Driving to an out-of-town mega mall has a very different impact to, say, cycling down your local town’s high street. Thriving high streets have value beyond merely facilitating consumerism – should we not focus on decarbonising our access to these spaces before resigning ourselves to a future of clicking alone in our homes?

When shopping online, you can help reduce some carbon impact by bulk buying and buying more of what you need from one seller so that it can all be sent together. But beware of marketplaces where everything goes into the same online basket but gets sent separately. You’ll also generate fewer van journeys if you choose to collect your items from a walkable pickup point, but if that’s not feasible, make sure you’re at home for your deliveries. Failed deliveries mean more emissions.

Where can I sell my crafts and handmade goods online?

Etsy remains the largest market for handmade goods in the UK, but it’s hard to shake the sense of ethical decline in the company. It lost its B corporation status in 2017, and has faced ‘seller strikes’ after raising its sales fee by 30% in 2022, and again in 2023 after allegedly withholding up to 75% of sales income from sellers for extended periods of time.

It previously held something of a monopoly for handmade sellers, but alternatives are emerging. The British Craft House opened in 2019, and has an application process that ensures that only high-quality, genuine crafted goods are sold on its platform. Its ambition to create and support a community of sellers sits in seemingly stark contrast to Etsy, where artisan sellers compete against re-sold high-street wares, and their queries and complaints are dealt with by chatbots.

We didn’t include British Craft House in this guide because, like most marketplaces, it doesn't take responsibility for the ethics of items sold on its platform. It states that it has “no control over and we do not guarantee the existence, quality, safety or legality” of items sold through it, and would therefore score fairly poorly compared to the other ethical retailers in the guide.

Buying secondhand and refurbished items

Even the most ethically sourced item has some environmental and societal cost when manufactured and distributed brand new. Buying secondhand is a great way to reduce consumerism’s waste impacts and pushes back against the constant societal demand for the newest upgrade. Oxfam offers a wide range of secondhand goods but doesn’t cater so well for specialised sectors beyond clothes and books.

For consumer electronics, Back Market is a good option. The company provides a marketplace for professionally refurbished phones, laptops, games consoles and more, and guarantees that each item is restored to “perfect working condition”. However, the company outsources its refurbishment, and items are sold by individual sellers. It is therefore worth checking reviews of each seller before you buy.

Life cycle assessments have shown that refurbished smartphones and tablets always avoid a significant amount of environmental damage when compared to brand new products, even accounting for resource-heavy replacement parts like batteries.

We have additional articles on buying secondhand and refurbished electronics, and repairing and buying secondhand clothes.

Key to guide in scoretable: S = Secondhand; R = Refurbished or recycled products

This guide appeared in issue 205 of Ethical Consumer magazine.

Company behind the brands

The Green Stationery Company is a supplier of office products including recycled paper and other stationery, biodegradable packaging, office cleaning products and catering supplies, and products designed to last.

Its Eco Issues page explains how paper is made and why it’s important to choose post-consumer recycled paper rather than 'sustainable' virgin paper, not least because of the global warming methane gas produced when paper is put into landfill.

Want to know more?

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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