Score table highlights
Bicycles may be ethically benevolent when you are riding them, but the manufacturing still needs to catch up. As highlighted in the Ethiscore table above, most companies score a worst in the Environmental Reporting and Supply Chain Management categories, with little improvement in reporting compared to 2012 (when we last reviewed bicycle manufacturers).
Most companies also lose marks under the Pollution and Toxics category for retailing Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), as campaigners have for years raised concerns over the toxic issues related to PVC.
Companies that retail leather without a leather sourcing policy also lose marks under the Pollution and Toxics and Animal Rights categories. Leather, as the hide of a dead animal, naturally decomposes, and to prevent this decomposition the leather industry uses a cocktail of harmful chemicals, including trivalent chromium sulphate, sodium sulphide, sodium sulfhydrate, arsenic and cyanide. Tannery effluent also contains large amounts of other pollutants, such as protein, hair, salt, lime sludge and acids. These can all pollute the land, air and water supply, making it a highly polluting industry.
As always, some exceptions to this poor practice do exist.
The Accell Group, for example, has improved its Environmental Reporting score to a middle by setting environmental reduction targets, including reducing waste by 2-4% per bike per year and CO2e emissions by 1.5% annually. Accell group also monitors its energy efficiency, CO2 emission and waste reduction programmes on an annual basis.
Halfords improved its Supply Chain Management rating to a middle, and Pashley received a best rating in this category. Both have relatively good supply chain policies and show a commitment to long-term relationships with suppliers.
Pashley also seeks to manufacture components in-house and sources locally wherever possible, stating it is “currently supported by almost 100 British component suppliers and over 85 British service and utility companies. In addition to using British-made mudguards, chain and seat stays, cables and wheels on our cycles, some other notable suppliers we have a long-established relationship with are: Brookes Saddles, Reynolds 531 Steel for frames, Sturmey Archer Hub Gears.”
With the rise in popularity of electric bicycles come ethical concerns over mineral sourcing for electronics components, especially as no company covered in this guide publishes an adequate (if any) minerals sourcing policy. Many companies in this guide also make electric bikes – see our electric bike guide.
Tantalum, Tin, Tungsten and Gold (3TG for short) are key components of electronic devices and are commonly referred to as conflict minerals - minerals often mined in conditions of armed conflict and human rights abuses, notably in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It is not clear whether these minerals are used in electric bicycle manufacture.
However cobalt is definitely needed to create lithium-ion batteries, its mining has been linked to dangerous and unhealthy working conditions, deaths and widespread child labour.
Ethical Consumer expects companies manufacturing electric bicycles to publish a mineral sourcing policy that shows a commitment to conflict-free sourcing, with ongoing due diligence and support for conflict-free initiatives in the DRC region. No companies that sold electric bicycles in this guide had an adequate minerals sourcing policy, and so were marked down under the Habitats and Resources and Human Rights categories.