Ethical shopping on the cheap
It is generally believed that buying ethical products is more expensive, but you’d be surprised which everyday products are socially responsible
Fair brews: Coffee generally has a good fairtrade reputation, but what of our other daily household foodstuffs? Photograph: getty images
If you throw a bunch of Fairtrade bananas in your shopping trolley, can you save the world? Sadly, being a truly ethical shopper – concerned for workers’ rights, worried about child slavery in the production process, mindful of damage to water supplies and the wider global environment, watching your carbon footprint and watchful of inhumane treatment of animals – takes a lot more work. Meanwhile, the horsemeat scandal has made us even more aware of the problems in food supply chains.
The general perception is that the most right-on, socially responsible brands cost more money. For most consumers, it’s hard to know where to start. Is being an ethical consumer merely a luxury for those who can afford it?
Behind the Brands, a new report from Oxfam, forensically examines the social and environmental impacts of world’s 10 largest food and drink companies, including Kellogg’s, Coca-Cola, Danone, Unilever, and Nestlé.
Associated British Foods, the manufacturer of Patak’s sauces, Burgen bread and Twinings tea, is revealed to have a particularly poor record in regard to its treatment of women workers in the developing world, water supplies, and farmers who grow their ingredients; it is also criticised for a lack of corporate transparency and for its climate change policies.
Nestlé’s record may surprise its critics: although the company is still under an active boycott for its promotion of breast milk formula in the developing world, it is nonetheless ranked by Oxfam as having made the most progress of the 10 companies surveyed.
Pricewatch visited SuperValu in Churchtown, south Co Dublin, to see if it was possible to do a completely ethical, affordable shop in a major supermarket. In short, it isn’t. No matter where you shop, it is very rare to find a completely ethical product. That said, there are degrees of bad behaviour, and SuperValu and other supermarkets do have ethical options.
For this unscientific survey, products chosen as “ethical” had to have received a score of at least 10 out of 20 by Ethical Consumer, a UK-based organisation which tracks all aspects of corporate behaviour and provides consumers with information on companies’ policies regarding workers and people, animals, the environment, politics and sustainability. Unfortunately, there is no centralised source of information on the corporate ethics of Irish brands. By and large, however, buying Irish is a good idea.
There are some major surprises on this more ethical shopping list. KP, the manufacturer of Skips and Hula Hoops crisps, have a strong reputation. Haribo, Jelly Belly, Swizzels-Matlow and Chupa Chups are among the more ethical sweets. Onken yogurt and Yeo Valley dairy products ranked miles ahead of Rachel’s organic yogurt. Amongst well-known beer brands, Carlsberg and Tennent ’s have some of the best track records. Tilda rice and Ragú pasta sauce also perform creditably.
Lindt chocolate is reasonably ethical, with a score of 11.5 out of 20, far higher than the score allocated to Green and Black’s Fairtrade organic chocolate, which is manufactured by Cadbury. Ecover dishwasher tablets were only slightly more expensive than Fairy dishwasher tablets.