Is ethical living practical?

Ethical living may salve your conscience, but is it practical? Kate Finnigan gives her shopping habits a moral makeover - and spends a week finding out
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The Independent Online

"We go further so you don't have to." At 6.45pm on one of the most bitter nights of the year, the irony of this slogan displayed at the new Co-op Welcome store in Acton, west London, doesn't escape me. According to the Co-op website, the shop is exactly 2.5 miles from my house. Not far in the grand scheme of things, but when you live in Shepherd's Bush and have three Tescos, a Morrison's, a Sainsbury's Local and two zillion corner shops within 0.5 miles, that's insanely inconvenient.

But I've gone further because I have to. Today is my first day of living Fairtrade for a week - eating, wearing and consuming only goods that have been bought at a fair price. And because the Co-op sells more Fairtrade products than any other UK retailer, it seems like a good starting point.

Co-op labels the provenance of every one of its goods. So even if it's not Fairtrade, you know where it's from. And because the company's policy is to fairly reward suppliers, exploitation is unlikely. I'm planning a Fair-trade-as-possible dinner party tomorrow night, and ideally want to stock up on vegetables for a curry, but a lack of fresh produce in this Co-op makes that difficult. However, I do find tea bags, coffee (all Co-op own brand coffee is Fairtrade), Ghanaian bananas, choc-chip cookies, a good selection of Fairtrade Chilean wine and Bumble Bee Honey Ale - all Fairtrade.

I'm so distracted by searching out the FT mark that I'm half-way home before I realise I didn't buy dinner, and have to stop at Sainsbury's Local for a ready-made pizza. Erm, not the best of starts. In an attempt to purge we have bananas, cookies (really good!) and coffee afterwards.


Yesterday I contacted the Fairtrade clothing company People Tree (as worn by Sienna Miller) and "socially conscious" label Edun (founded by Mrs Bono, Ali Hewson). This morning two large packages arrive from both with samples of this season's collection for me to borrow. People Tree is great for basics like T-shirts, as well as knitwear and accessories. While I'm working (at home) I wear their navy wide-legged trousers, hand-woven in Bangladesh, and a black hipster organic cotton vest under a black T-shirt (made by disadvantaged women in southern India).

I'm meeting friends at a bar opening tonight, so later I change into a pair of pale-washed skinny jeans and an ivory chiffon and canvas shirt by Edun. "Socially conscious" roughly means they pay factory workers at least the minimum wage.

The clothes are about five times more expensive then People Tree but teamed with a pair of boots from Terra Plana, an artisan shoe company that uses recycled materials, they definitely don't shriek ethical. In fact, my friends don't comment at all on my ensemble, which I reluctantly count as a good sign.

Once I'm out, I feel my Fairtrade control slipping. We're just not living in an ethical world. At the bar I bellow, "Do you have anything Fairtrade?" at the barman as he's handing over free bellinis to a mass of media vultures. It takes about three attempts for him to hear what I'm saying. When he finally gets it, he looks at me in disbelief and walks away shaking his head. I take it that's a "no", then.


Tonight is the Fairtrade-as-possible dinner party. If I had the time (and the money) I would have gone to Ganesha on the South Bank for floating candles made by disabled artisans in India. Instead, I concentrate on the food. Fishcakes to start, made from Waitrose Icelandic haddock fillets. (OK, they're more eco-friendly than Fairtrade, but Greenpeace recently commended the chain's sustainably-sourced fish policies, which has to count for something.)

Waitrose has a good selection of Fairtrade products and claims that "all [its] relationships with suppliers are based on the principles of trading fairly", so I've bought all my vegetables for a Thai curry there - beans, mangetout, onions and baby aubergines. I've also picked up a Costa Rican pineapple and loose Fairtrade bananas. I'll serve the curry with Crazy Jack Organic Fairtrade Himalayan Basmati from Tesco (I discovered this on uk). And to follow there are lemon cream pots made with Whitworth's Fairtrade sugar, Green & Black's Maya Gold chocolate and Percol's Fairtrade Arabica coffee. Oh, and three bottles of Co-Op Fairtrade Chilean wine.

I don't tell my guests about the FT effort until they arrive. The general reaction is, surprisingly, one of embarrassment. I've made everyone feel guilty! Phil hands over his bottle of French red reluctantly. "I can't guarantee that some French people weren't exploited in the making of this..."


Buying ethically is just turning into an excuse to splurge. It's guilt-free spending - even when it's costing you your own personal earth. I get through almost £30 at the Notting Hill farmers' market buying some locally produced broccoli, cabbage, bread, cheese and eggs. At Oxfam I buy a couple of boxes of Equal Exchanges tea selection (including a very nice Earl Grey) and organic honey made by a co-operative in the Mexican sierras; at Luscious Organic in Kensington I find a bag of quinoa made by a group in the Equadorian Andes.

At the Body Shop I buy cocoa butter body wash and hand and body lotion made with Community Trade cocoa beans from Ghana. Then my sister and I pop into M&S's Café Revive and get through a couple of pots of their Fairtrade tea (all coffee and tea at Café Revive is now Fairtrade). I go home before I have to declare bankruptcy.


I'm getting married in six weeks and today we put in an order for a Fairtrade wedding band from Cred Jewellery in Chichester. Yep, honestly. I am attempting to rid myself of some of the guilt of having an unethical diamond engagement ring. Cred works with Oro Verde, a small-scale mining corporation in the South American "biogeographical" region of Choco, which stretches from Panama along the coast to Ecuador. Unless you live locally, you have to mail order, which means I don't get to try the various styles on. It's a risk for a wedding ring but, fingers crossed... We are due at the Rainforest Cafe in Piccadilly for my friend Jo's two-year-old niece's birthday. A small part of me hopes that this burger chain, which cashes in on the green zeitgeist, is embracing the opportunity to give back a bit. There is some evidence (25p donation to nominated charities on a few of the meals), but not much. To be honest, the place depresses me so much that I can't even ask if they've got any Fairtrade items.

More cheeringly, the pressie - a People Tree organic cotton T-shirt - goes down well. It has monkeys on it. Two days later, when given the choice of wearing the People Tree tee or one from Gap, Jo's niece Issie took the ethical choice. Right on! Monkeys will swing it every time.


Out of sheer belligerence (because I know the answer), I go into Starbucks and ask the girl behind the counter if their hot chocolate is Fairtrade.

"The hot chocolate?" she says.

"Well, it is made with cocoa beans," I reply.

"No! Sorry, it's not Fairtrade," she says, clearly amused.

"OK, thanks. That's all I wanted to know."

I am so smug these days.


In a final humungous Fairtrade effort, I go back to the Co-op. We have to use our Waitrose Costa Rican Fairtrade pineapple for something (so I'm making a stir-fry with a sweet and sour sauce), and the Ecuadorian quinoa (which I now know you can serve instead of cous-cous or rice).

A week into Fairtrade living and my cupboard has more exotic products - from Ghana, the Caribbean, India, South America - than before. I have a twinge of guilt about the food miles I've clocked up. Or maybe not. Perhaps the real difference is that with a Fairtrade product, the country of origin and its producers are willingly displayed - because there's nothing shameful about its provenance. If it means that in future I'll have to go a little bit further for that information, I think I'll have to...

Leaders in the fight for fair trade


Edun - socially conscious, high-end fashion for men and women;

People Tree - Fairtrade and environmentally friendly fashion;

American Apparel - sweatshop-free casual clothes; www.american

Terra Plana - artisan footwear company;

Kuyichi - Fairtrade denim from the Netherlands;


Farmers markets - to find your nearest suppliers of locally produced food, go to

Co-op - supermarket chain with strong ethical policies;

Waitrose - strong supporter of Fairtrade;

M&S - making an effort to supply Fairtrade goods where it can


Cred Jewellery - the only Fairtrade suppliers in the UK;


Asda, John Lewis, Tesco, Sainsbury's and Somerfield all sell some Fairtrade flowers


Body Shop - clearly labels fairly traded products with a "Community Trade" stamp

Oxfam - some stores sell Clean, a range of Fairtrade handmade soaps


M&S - next monthit will become the first major retailer to sell clothing made from Fairtrade cotton

Top Shop - from mid-April the store will sell a range for babies incorporating organic and Fairtrade clothing from People Tree, Hug and Gossypium. It also plans to introduce Fairtrade and organic cotton into its mainline collection

Fairtrade Fortnight is 6-19 March,