Are you a responsible shopper?
You know how it is is. It’s easy to be ethically concerned when we’ve all got loads of money and great jobs, but it’s harder to be green when we are all in the red. After all, those companies with the lowest ethical standards are always those at the cheaper end of the market, right? Not necessarily.
Ethical Consumer (www.ethicalconsumer.org) has just published its 2011 high street buying guide and the results do not necessarily show that cheap means unethical, or that pricey means responsible. The guide covers 32 of the most popular high street brands and provides information on what they are doing, or often not doing, in terms of social and environmental responsibility.
Of the 29 High Street shops surveyed, nine, including the ‘upmarket’ Benetton, River Island and TK Maxx, failed to demonstrate any sort of policies aimed at protecting their workers or the environment. ‘If a company doesn’t reply [to the survey] it is usually because they are not doing very much” commented researcher, Bryony Moore, insightfully.
The top three performers were New Look, Ann Harvey and Mango. The ethical credentials of New Look were famously questioned in that Panorama programme of last year(along with Jane Norman, now in administration and partly owned by Edinburgh Woollen Mill), so it’s interesting to see the cheaper end of the High Street coming scoring highly. Supermarkets Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury’s occupied the bottom slots, but Ethical Consumer admits that supermarkets are at a disadvantage because companies are scored on all aspects of their business, which means there are more items upon which they can score negatively.
But who are the worst clothing retailers from an ethical perspective? Cheap as chips Primark are in the bottom five, but so is the pricier River Island, and designer gear shop TK Maxx. Here’s what they were slated for:
River Island failed to respond to the questionnaire and “has an inadequate CSR policy with no mention of the environmental impact of transportation, energy and textile production.”
TK Maxx also failed to respond to the questionnaire and lost most of their marks in the pollution, workers rights and human rights categories. Described as ‘inadequate’
Matalan was another retailer who didn’t reply to the questionnaire and have little public information available on their website relating to social and environmental responsibility. According to worker’s rights campaigners there are numerous reports available which show that worker’s rights are being abused.
Peacocks and Bonmarche (owned by same parent company, The Peacock Group plc) both failed to respond to the questionnaire, have been accused of tax dodging and scored badly for management of worker’s rights in the supply chain.
Primark also failed to respond to Ethical Consumer’s questionnaire, and there are numerous reports of abuses to worker’s rights, exploitation of young workers and sourcing from oppressive regimes. But it is very cheap there.
Given the ongoing economic pressure on most people’s purses, it remains to be seen whether people will continue to care about the ethical implications of saving a few quid. For example, in 2002, Ethical Consumer found that H&M banned the use of PVC in response to campaign pressure but were found to be selling it again in 2011 because it dropped off the consumer agenda.
At least we will be able to buy our matching Bitterwallet PVC gimp suits again now.