In January 2020, Ethical Consumer searched the Tesco Plc website for information regarding its environmental policies and practices.

The company’s Little Helps Plan was viewed, which it now reported updates on in its Annual Report, and says aims to "pull together all of our efforts and refocus our activities on the social and environmental challenges". Tesco discussed several key environmental impacts, including food waste, supply chain carbon emissions, deforestation, agriculture and transport.

Tesco published more detailed policies on palm oil, soy, seafood, beef, timber, genetic engineering and chemical management. Its published data on carbon footprint and food waste was independently verified by KPMG.

The company was considered to have a reasonable understanding of its key environmental impacts.

Two quantified environmental reduction targets were found: reduce absolute carbon emissions from our operations from 2015/16 levels by 35% by 2020, and halve food waste in our own operations by 2030 (baseline 2013/14).

As the company presented two future, quantifiable targets for reducing its environmental impact, showed a reasonable understanding of its key environmental impacts and independently assured performance data against these impacts, it received Ethical Consumer's best rating for Environmental Reporting.

Reference: (10 January 2020)

In January 2020 Ethical Consumer searched Tesco's website,, which showed that the company operated petrol filling stations. Retailing petrol was considered by Ethical Consumer to be operating in a high climate change impact sector, and therefore lost a whole mark under Climate Change.

Reference: (10 January 2020)

In January 2020 Ethical Consumer searched Tesco Plc’s website for information about its use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). No updated information could be found, other than a mention of measuring "emissions from refrigerant gas leakage from systems in our stores or our vehicles".

Tesco had previously performed quite well in the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA)'s 2014 study. It had:
- rolled out natural refrigerants across 194 systems (a 30 per cent increase since the previous year), including 63 in Eastern Europe and 13 Asia
- planned to extend commitment to use [less?] CO2 across Europe
- In UK, 50 per cent of Express stores and over half of all new Metro stores had doors on fridges. Outside UK and China, 71 per cent of stores have doors on fridges
- All distribution centres were HFC-free

However, as no up-to-date policy could be found and no recent data was found on the company's progress towards removing HFCs, the company lost a full mark under climate change.

In October 2014 EIA released it 6th and final report called Chilling Facts: Closing the doors on HFCs. The report provided research into the growing uptake of natural refrigerants among some of the world's leading retailers, reflecting a market shift towards climate-friendly refrigeration in the supermarket sector. According to the report hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are the world's fastest growing source of man-made emissions, rising at an alarming rate of 10-15 per cent a year. EIA considered the adaptation of HFC/CO2 hybrid systems as a potentially useful stepping stone towards HFC-free systems, but not as an end point in themselves. The overall aim should be to phase out these gases in favour of climate-friendly alternatives. The report looked at the chemicals used in refrigerating both in-store fridges and freezers as well as the transportation of goods.
The report recommended that retailers should:
1. Commit to installing only HFC-free systems in all new stores and refurbishments, across entire estate, including their food transport systems and international operations;
2. Commit to a total phase-out by 2025 at the latest (the UK Government will ban the use HFCs with the GWP above 2500 from 2020).
3. Fit doors on all chiller and freezer units as standard
4. Remove any HFCs with Global Warming Potential above 2,500 in existing equipment as a matter of priority.

Reference: (10 January 2020)

The campaign group Feedback published a report in June 2018 entitled The food waste scorecard: an assessment of supermarket action to address food waste. The report ranked UK supermarkets based on publicly available information, mainly from their websites or news articles, to assess their efforts to tackle food waste in the industry.

The report measured supermarkets against the food use hierarchy. Feedback established key indicators for each facet of the food use hierarchy, which include reducing and preventing surplus food as a priority, followed by redistributing surplus food, recycling surplus food and finally the proper disposal of food waste. Supermarkets scored a point for each of the 32 key indicators successfully implemented.

Tesco scored a B rating overall and was ranked first out of the 10 supermarkets assessed in the report. Tesco scored highest on each of the steps in the food use hierarchy.

On reducing and preventing surplus food, Tesco was found to have implemented 12 of the 20 key indicators. Tesco was the first supermarket to sign up to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of halving food waste from farm to fork by 2030. The SDG is deemed by Feedback to be a more ambitious target than the UK’s national voluntary agreement (Courtauld 2025), to which all the UK supermarkets assessed in the report are signed up.

Tesco scored both available points for their monitoring of food waste reduction via the provision of publicly available food waste data and provision of a detailed breakdown of food waste data. Tesco was the first supermarket to publish third party audited food waste data. However, the report observed that Tesco has struggled to maintain a steady reduction; it’s target of zero in-store food waste has not been met.

Tesco was the only supermarket to score full points for reducing food waste in supply chains and was commended for its commitment to extend transparency to its own supply chain in terms of measuring food waste and for implementing initiatives to help suppliers reduce food waste.

The second step in the food use hierarchy is redistribution, which involves surplus food that is fit for human consumption being sent to charities and organisations that redistribute food. Tesco was found to have implemented 3 of the 4 key indicators and scored the maximum 3 points available for the quantity of food redistributed. Tesco was also applauded for significantly increasing the quantity of food redistributed to people in need and for donating 7,975 tonnes in 2017/18, representing a 40% increase on the previous year.

The food use hierarchy holds that food surplus unfit for human consumption should be used to feed animals. Tesco, along with Sainsbury’s and Iceland, was found to be one of the only UK supermarkets to send legally permissible food waste to animal feed. Tesco was recognised for fulfilling 2 of the 3 key indicators under the animal feed criteria.

The final step in the food use hierarchy is the disposal of inedible food waste. Most UK supermarkets have a zero waste to landfill commitment. Instead, large quantities of food suitable for human consumption is being sent to Anaerobic Digestion (AD) to be converted into energy. According to the Feedback report, AD should only be used to process food waste which is unsuitable for redistribution or animal feed. Tesco was found to be one of the few supermarkets which clearly ackmowledged that the use of an AD to process food waste is not a ‘reduction’ of waste in the same way as redistribution or animal feed. Tesco was recognised for fulfilling 2 of the 3 key indicators under the disposal criteria.

The report stated, "Producing our food costs our planet dearly, with Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG) from agriculture, forestry and fisheries doubling over the past 50 years (FAO 2014) to nearly 20% of emissions resulting from human activity. Globally, around one third of all food produced is wasted (FAO 2011)". As Tesco scored highest in this report, this reference is for information only.


Food Waste scorecard 2018 (18 April 2019)

In January 2020 Ethical Consumer viewed Tesco's website for its policy on the use of potentially hazardous chemicals such as PVC, brominated flame retardants (BFRs) and phthalates. The company sold a range of electronics products at the time of writing.

Tesco had developed a ‘preferred materials’ list for its own brand products. This contained a ‘red list’ of materials it aimed to remove from its own brand products by the end of 2019. This list included PVC.

Regarding PVC it stated on its website, ‘We have...identified those that are not easily recycled and most harmful to the environment, such as PVC and polystyrene (sometimes used for yoghurt pots), PLA (polylactic acid - which can be found in films and bags) and rigid water soluble bio plastics...We have committed to fully remove these hard to recycle materials from our Own Brand packaging in the UK by the end of 2019, and are working with our suppliers to find alternatives’.

No discussion of brominated flame retardants (BFRs) and phthalates could be found.

A strong policy on toxics would include publicly disclosed data on the use of hazardous chemicals such as PVC, BFR and phthalates; as well as clear, dated targets for ending their use. Tesco had a pledge for zero discharge of hazardous chemicals (ZDHC) by 2020, but this did not include electronics. It therefore received a worst rating for toxics chemicals policy for its electronics products and lost a whole mark under Pollutions and Toxics.


Tesco preferred materials (9 October 2018)

In January 2020 Ethical Consumer searched the Tesco PLC website for the company's policy on the use of the hazardous chemicals parabens, triclosan and phthalates – chemicals commonly used in cosmetics products.

Some forms or uses of these chemicals are banned or restricted in the EU or the USA.
Triclosan is an antibacterial and is a suspected endocrine disruptor. Parabens are also endocrine disruptors and have been linked to breast cancer and are used as preservatives. Phthalates, usually DEP or DBP, are used in fragrances and are endocrine disruptors.

In a statement released in June 2018, titled 'Chemical management at Tesco F&F clothing – our Detox progress' Tesco stated that: "We are committed to enforcing existing bans on the remaining nine substances: Phthalates – used in many plastics as plasticisers and flame retardants." However, there was no mention of the other two chemicals. In its August 2019 update, this commitment was not repeated but graphs showed that less phthalates were found in chemical testing of final products than in 2016/17.

A strong policy on toxics would be no use of these chemicals or clear, dated targets for ending their use.
Although it appeared progress had been made on phasing out the chemical, no target dates were given. The company therefore received Ethical Consumer's worst rating for toxics and lost a whole mark under Pollution and Toxics.


Detox report 2019 (10 January 2020)

In January 2020 Ethical Consumer searched Tesco PLC’s website for the company's cotton sourcing policy.

The company stated on a Sustainable Fabrics page: "Our aim is to have 100% of the cotton we use in all Tesco products to be sourced sustainably (Better Cotton, organic and recycled) by 2025." Regarding its clothing brand F&F it said that in its "2018 ranges 88% of the cotton we sourced was produced sustainably, the majority through the Better Cotton Initiative."

A page titled Human Rights (F&F) was found that discussed human rights and eliminating forced labour in the cotton industry. This stated: ‘since 2007 Tesco and F&F asked suppliers not to source cotton from Uzbekistan for any of our products, and we asked that the source of raw cotton used in products is identified. We were one of the first retailers to ban the use of Uzbek cotton in the supply chain. In 2014, we were proud to solidify our commitment by signing up to the Responsible Sourcing Network’s (RSN) cotton pledge’.

The company provided Ethical Consumer with a copy of its 'Cotton Sourcing Requirements' document in February 2017. This stated: "Suppliers must ensure that cotton sourced from Uzbekistan is not used in Tesco and F&F products... and must sign the letter sent together with these requirements as a commitment to this effect. Suppliers/Sites should make every effort to communicate our commitment to their supply chain, and we encourage you to ask your suppliers to commit to you in writing."

Tesco was considered to have positive policy addressing Uzbek cotton and was not marked down for workers' rights abuses for the likelihood of forced labour in its supply chain.

The Organic Trade Association website,, stated in July 2018 that cotton covered roughly 2.78% of global arable land, but accounted for 12.34% of all insecticide sales and 3.94% of herbicide sales. Due to the impacts of the widespread use of pesticides in cotton production worldwide the company also lost half a mark in the Pollution & Toxics category.

According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), a non-profit pro biotech organisation, genetically modified cotton accounted for 80% of cotton grown in 2017. Due to the prevalence of GM cotton in cotton supply chains and the lack of any evidence that the company avoided it, it was assumed that some of the company's cotton products contained some GM material. As a result it lost half a mark under the Controversial Technology category.

Reference: (10 January 2020)

In January 2020 Ethical Consumer searched Tesco's website,, for a policy on sourcing conflict minerals. The company sold a number of own brand electronics products (including kettles, radios, portable DVD player) but no policy could be found.

Conflict minerals are minerals mined in conditions of armed conflict and human rights abuses, notably in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The minerals in question are Tantalum, Tin, Tungsten and Gold (3TG for short) and are key components of electronic devices, from mobile phones to televisions.

Ethical Consumer deemed it necessary for any company manufacturing electronics to have a policy on the sourcing of conflict minerals. Such a policy would articulate the company's commitment to conflict free sourcing of 3TG minerals and its commitment to continue ensuring due diligence on the issue. The policy should also state that it intends to continue sourcing from the DRC region in order to avoid an embargo, which would hurt local workers even more.

A company should also demonstrate its commitment to the issue of conflict minerals by supporting conflict free initiatives in the region either through membership of a multi-stakeholder initiative supporting the conflict-free minerals trade (such as Conflict Free Sourcing Initiative (CFSI), Public-Private Alliance for Responsible Minerals Trade (PPA) and industry initiatives such as JEITA Responsible Conflict Minerals Working Group) and / or financially supporting in-region mining initiatives (such as KEMET “Partnership for Social and Economic Sustainability”, Conflict-Free Tin Initiative (CFTI), ITRI Tin Supply Chain Initiative (iTSCi), Solutions for Hope).

A strong conflict minerals policy would also:
- require suppliers to adopt a robust 3TG conflict minerals policy and programme equivalent to the company.
- include details of the steps it will take to identify, assess, mitigate and respond to risks within its supply chain.
- use conflict minerals reporting templates by Conflict Free Sourcing Initiative (or may be referred to as EICC-GeSi) or OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas
- include a commitment (from the company and supplier) to only using 3TG minerals from smelters that have been audited and verified as conflict free by the Conflict Free Smelter Program, or an equivalent, as they become available
- list in detail the smelters or refiners (SORs)

Despite selling electronic items Tesco had no policy on the sourcing of conflict minerals. Therefore it received Ethical Consumer's worst rating for conflict minerals and lost marks under Human Rights and Habitats and Resources.

Reference: (10 January 2020)

In January 2020 Ethical Consumer viewed the Tesco Mobile website, which stated, "We share O2’s network". O2 is owned by Telefónica.

In August 2019, Telefónica lost full marks under the following categories: Habitats and Resources, Human Rights, Workers Rights, Political Activities, Anti-Social Finance.

Tesco mobile therefore lost half a mark in those categories for having a licensing relationship with the company.

Reference: (11 January 2020)

In December 2019 Ethical Consumer viewed an article on the Guardian website from 5th October 2019. It was titled "Tesco and M&S likely to have soya linked to deforestation in supply chains".

It reported: "An investigation has revealed that Tesco, Asda, Morrisons and M&S all buy products from UK farmers using animal feed that includes soya from Argentina. About 14% of Argentina’s planted soya is in the north of the country, where deforestation has laid waste to huge areas of the Gran Chaco forest. Argentinian officials have confirmed to the Guardian that there is no traceability system for soya from deforested areas, which appears to be mixed with soya from other parts of the country before being sold on to the UK and other parts of the world."

Tesco lost half a mark under Habitats and Resources.


Tesco and M&S likely to have soya linked to deforestation in supply chains (5 October 2019)

In January 2020, Ethical Consumer searched Tesco PLC’s website for information about its palm oil souring. A webpage was viewed titled ‘Sourcing palm oil responsibly’, dated 5/06/2019.

It stated: "Tesco is committed to zero-net deforestation in our sourcing of palm oil." "For the 2018 calendar year reporting period, 100% of the palm oil used in our Own Brand products in the UK was certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (Segregated - 71%; Mass Balance - 26%; RSPO Credits – 2%).
We are working to transition the 2% of RSPO Credits to a physical supply chain of certified sustainable palm. This is predominantly within our non-food products range where physical supply chains for complex derivatives continue to be more challenging to establish."

It also stated it was also working towards RSPO certification and implementing responsible sourcing programmes for palm oil across the Tesco Group (Asia, Central Europe, Republic of Ireland).

Ethical Consumer downloaded the Tesco PLC’s most recent submission to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), its 2018 Annual Communication on Progress (ACOP) from the RSPO's website. The company's ACOP provided figures for the total volume of crude palm oil, palm kernel oil and palm oil derivatives used. It stated that it used a total of 50,595 tonnes. 75% of this was RSPO certified and 40% was segregated. For the first time, it reported on volumes used in its operations around the world and not just in the UK. It stated that "Tesco Plc includes retail operations in the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, Central Europe (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland,Slovakia) and Asia (Thailand, Malaysia) and also wholesale operations in the UK." It was in Tesco Asia (Malaysia and Thailand) where it had the lowest certification rate: Own-Brand products 37% RSPO certified. Elsewhere 100% was certified. It stated, "For our businesses in Asia we are developing a transition plan in order to hit our 2020 target to ensure 100% of our TescoOwn-Brand products in Asia are RSPO certified."

The company was now considered to be making a group-wide commitment. It did not disclose suppliers or name significant sustainability initiatives, or discuss mapping its supply chain. Overall Tesco PLC received a middle rating for its palm oil policy and practice.

Reference: (10 January 2020)