Ethical guide shows how to shop with a clear conscience

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The Independent Online

Being an ethical consumer used to be pretty straightforward - avoid Israeli oranges and South African wine and buy recycled toilet paper and you were pretty much in the clear.

Being an ethical consumer used to be pretty straightforward - avoid Israeli oranges and South African wine and buy recycled toilet paper and you were pretty much in the clear.

But in the 21st century, the dilemmas confronting the right-minded shopper have become bewildering, with even the most innocuous of items hiding a shady provenance.

Now the Rough Guides company, best known for helping budget backpackers find their way around the globe, has produced a manual for negotiating the ethical quagmire of responsible purchasing.

The Rough Guide to Ethical Shopping names and shames the worst offenders and recommends the best places to spend with an easy conscience.

Ethical buying and boycotting is booming in Britain, with record numbers of people supporting anti-globalisation movements and using their purchasing power to influence large companies.

The value of "ethical consumption" in Britain is now estimated at nearly £20bn.

More than half of consumers say they have avoided at least one product on ethical grounds in the past year, while boycotts cost British businesses an estimated £2.6bn in 2003.

The Rough Guide includes sections on food, drink, clothes, finance and tourism.

Along with the usual demons such as Nike and Gap, which are routinely accused of using sweatshops to keep production costs low, are other alleged villains. The fashion label French Connection is accused of having a "feeble" code on ensuring its clothes are not produced in sweatshops, while the Arcadia boss Philip Green, who owns Top Shop and BhS, has refused to join the UK's Ethical Trading Initiative. However, companies such as Next and Ted Baker have signed up to the initiative's code of practice.

Bling Bling is a definite no-no unless aficionados can prove their diamonds have not come from war zones where human rights abuses have been perpetrated.

The guide encourages consumers to buy locally sourced food from small markets rather than imported products at supermarkets, pointing out that a typical basket of foreign-sourced chicken, carrots, beans and peas would have travelled 25,000 miles and used 52 megajoules of energy in the process. In contrast, an equivalent basket from a farmers' market will have travelled 376 miles and used just one megajoule.

The book also contains a handy guide to eating in seafood restaurants - with a "do and don't" list for fish.

Sustainably harvested king scallops are acceptable, but Chilean sea bass should be shunned because overfishing means it is considered by many to be an endangered species.

Perfume companies such as Calvin Klein are accused of continuing to test products on animals, while Greenpeace recommends avoiding Axminster carpets because of the chemicals contained in them.

Lovers of the Toblerone chocolate bar may want to think twice after discovering it is owned by the tobacco company formerly known as Philip Morris, now renamed Altria.

And those who think they are doing their bit for global warming by shopping on the web rather than driving to an out-of-town mall should beware - AOL, CompuServe, Microsoft and Netscape Navigator are all major donors to George Bush, who infuriated campaigners by refusing to sign the Kyoto treaty on the environment.

A spokesman for The Burma Campaign, which publishes a "dirty list" of companies that operate within the oppressive military regime, said: "Boycotts and ethical shopping really do make a difference." Recent triumphs for the campaign include extracting a promise from the furniture company Alexander Rose to stop sourcing wood from Burma, and the advertising firm WPP withdrew from Burma within three days of being featured on the dirty list.

The guide's author Duncan Clark said: "I think there are increasing numbers of people who want to shop ethically but don't really know where to start or how to even find out if something is "good" or "bad" because the whole thing is so murky. The other problem is knowing where to stop, and deciding how far you want to go with being an ethical consumer." The manual highlights some extreme groups, such as the fruitarians, who only eat uncooked foods that can be eaten without harming any organism, which limits them to fruits, berries and nuts.

Another movement suggests that even the ethical shopping lobby is in the wrong because it encourages purchasing when in fact people should not be buying at all. With that in mind, 27 November has been declared national Buy Nothing Day, when consumers are challenged to go 24 hours without a single purchase.

Buyer Beware


Cat Clothes And Boots

Its chunky boots and no-nonsense clothing are popular among public school-educated young men, but protesters claim Caterpillar sells bulldozers to Israel which could be used to bulldoze Palestinian homes

Maxwell House

Is one of thousands of brands owned by Altria, the tobacco giant formerly known as Philip Morris. It continues to deny that smoking is addictive and has been fined for failing to disclose political donations. It was one of the biggest contributors to George Bush's campaign.


Hundreds of thousands of cheap snooker cues made of wood from the Indonesian ramin tree are imported into Britain each year. The rare tree is supposed to be protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, but is still illegally logged and exported from the dwindling tropical forests.

Tiger Prawns

Prawn farms in Bangladesh and the Philippines drain villages of water, and pollute surrounding land.Human rights abuses including rape and murder have been inflicted on people forced from their homes to make way for man-made ponds.


Owned by Wal-Mart, which is notorious for anti-union activities in the US, selling guns and donating funds to the Republican Party. Asda comes bottom of a league table of supermarkets compiled by Compassion in World Farming, which says it has failed to support sustainable farming.