Internet guide shows ethical shoppers how to keep their consciences clear

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The Independent Online

Shopping can be a nightmare for the time-poor but guilt-rich consumer with a conscience. Notorious global corporations may lurk behind seemingly innocuous household goods, while choosing the wrong make of mobile phone can leave you with unwanted links to the arms trade.

Shopping can be a nightmare for the time-poor but guilt-rich consumer with a conscience. Notorious global corporations may lurk behind seemingly innocuous household goods, while choosing the wrong make of mobile phone can leave you with unwanted links to the arms trade.

With ethical shopping now a booming business in Britain, a new website has been set up to give concerned customers an instant positive or negative verdict on goods ranging from toothpaste to dog food.

The "ethiscore" site - www.ethiscore.org - names and shames brands that have dubious ownership or poor records on workers' rights, while rewarding those that have the correct green credentials with a place at the top of the ethical league table.

Among the goods already scrutinised by the research website are computers, trainers, lavatory cleaners and mobile phones.

Products are judged against their record on environmental protection, animal welfare and human rights issues, as well as sustainability criteria.

They are then marked out of 20 and placed in a league table, with special mention given to the best and worst in each category. Users can also customise the website's criteria to take into account their own ethical priorities.

In the latest report on mobile phones, Motorola is criticised for having contracts with the Israeli Defence Force, while Samsung is also accused of manufacturing parts for defence aircraft.

Ratings are updated on a daily basis to take into account the latest fluctuations in ethical behaviour.

Even goods once revered by the ethical shopping fraternity can find themselves cast out if they fail to live up to expectations. The ethiscore researchers recently downgraded Green & Black's rating in the chocolate market from 16 out of 20 to six, after the company was sold to Cadbury.

The demotion was linked to the fact that ethiscore says that Cadbury has not "fully embraced the ideals of the fair-trade movement".

Meanwhile, Toblerone chocolate is exposed for being owned by the same global corporation behind Philip Morris tobacco.

Rob Harrison, editor of Ethical Consumer magazine, which is running the website, said: "It is becoming increasingly difficult for consumers who want to buy ethically to know what companies are behind what brands, and to keep up with changes in the market.

"People just don't have the time to look at all the issues, and brands can change hands overnight - as in the case of Green & Black's - meaning that a report done only a few months ago can be out of date very quickly.

"The site simplifies things for customers and can act as an easy ethical shopping list, while making sure that we keep companies with poor ethical records on their toes."

Ethical shopping has become a big business in recent years, with large companies beginning to realise the profits to be had from cleaning up their acts.

The so-called "ethical consumption" market in the UK is now worth an estimated £20bn a year, while boycotts of demonised companies lost them around £2.6bn a year. British consumers spent £140m on products bearing the Fairtrade logo in 2004, a year-on-year rise of 53 per cent.

The fair-trade movement was launched in the late 1980s, when Mexican farmers rallied against the collapse of coffee prices and formed a co-operative to protect their incomes.

In a recent survey by Ethical Consumer magazine, half of customers said they took a company's ethical record into account when deciding whether to buy a certain brand.

However, there is still a long way to go before ethical consumption dominates the market place and the shopping trolley. Overall, a total of just 1 per cent of the world's total coffee production is traded according to the ethical principles under the Fairtrade criteria.

But coffee is still the most popular fair-trade item, with an annual market worth £49.3m followed by bananas (£30.6m), chocolate (£13.6m) and tea (£12.9m).

Best and worst

CHOCOLATE

Best: Traidcraft.

Scored 18 out of 20 and praised for using organic ingredients and employing fair trade rules that mean local farmers are paid above market prices for cocoa.

Worst: Toblerone. Scored 1.5 out of 20, partly because it is owned by Altria, the recently renamed global corporation behind the tobacco giant Philip Morris. Altria has been fined for not disclosing political donations and is a huge contributor to George Bush.

PET FOOD

Best: Yarrah organic. Scored 17.5 out of 20 for producing vegetarian, organic dog and cat food in environmentally friendly packages.

Worst: Winalot. Scored 0.5 out of 20;

strongly criticised for using tins (inefficient to produce and transport) and being owned by Nestlé, enemy of the ethical shopper.

TOOTHPASTE

Best: Bioforce.

Scored 15 out of 20 because it is a herbal product containing echinacea and essential oils, with no detergents, artificial colouring or fluoride.

Worst: Crest. Scored 1 out of 20 because it contains detergents such as sodium lauryl sulphate, which has been linked to skin irritation, and for not providing detailed information on the other ingredients.

MUSIC PLAYERS

Best: MPMan MP3 player.

Scored 13 out of 20. Praised for providing a mains-powered battery recharger so people do not damafe environment with disposable batteries.

Worst: Sony personal CD. Scored 6.5 out of 20 and demonised because manufacturers sell electronics to the arms industry, have a poor record on workers' rights and have stifled competition.

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