Are you a responsible shopper?

2 November 2011

not much green in this wardrobe...

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 (  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.

[The Ecologist]


  • Marky M.
    So what? Does anybody really give a toss?
  • Dick
    I gave up reading before I even got to the scores, when I saw that the third item they score on is ... why fashion is a feminist issue
  • Dick
    I gave up reading before I even got to the scores, when I saw that the third item they score on is ... why fashion is a feminist issue.
  • Idi A.
    I'm unemployed. I can't afford ethics.
  • Avon B.
    Given that so many stores failed to respond does not imply they're "not doing very much". It might mean they're too busy to respond to bleeding heart hipsters, or that they know they're on a hiding to nothing, or that the information is commercially sensitive. Perhaps the researchers should get real jobs instead, if they can.
  • Brad
    They probably dont reply because they probably get 1000 letters a week from all sorts of do-gooders.
  • The B.
    Responsible shopper? Well, I don't try underwear on in the shop or try on trousers when I'm commando, is that the sort of responsible you mean?
  • Andrew R.
    Avon, what do you know about Ethics? You gave up Stringer to Brother Mouzone.
  • heywood j.
    If another bishop of minister resigns, everything will be back on an even keel or something something...
  • callum
    It's pretty obvious they don't reply because they have something to hide. This isn't just a letter from a "random do-gooder". It's an annual survey by an established organisation which gets a decent amount of media coverage. Any company of this size will have a PR department with a whole list of facts and policies that can easily be copied and pasted into an email - the fact that they haven't done so suggests that they feel the brand will be less damaged by ignoring a survey than by incriminating themselves in a response.
  • Shooter M.
    Perhaps these clowns didn't get responses because they were too busy being wankers outside St Paul's to check their mail
  • PokeHerPete
    Who really cares? Ill buy clothes which I like, regardless of how ethical the manufacturer is. Im definitely not willing to pay more for the same product which is more ethical. Bloody hippies.
  • Avon B.
    @ Andrew Robinson And you're next, mo'fo.
  • Nick T.
    I genuinely don't give a fuck. I buy clothes if I like them and if the price is okay. If I'm keeping a 7 year-old in worthwhile employment somewhere, that's pretty cool too.
  • Zeddy
    Christ, the last time I bought clothes was out of C&A. How are their ethics?
  • Francesca
    It's sad some people don't care at all. Obviously not everyone can afford the pricier ethical clothing, but to say 'i don't give a shit' about people being treated inhumanly so we can have our jeggings and hoodies is very bleak. With morals like this, no wonder there is terrible things happening in the world that most turn a blind eye too. As long as we can get our Latte's for cheap and get to wear the latest fashion for under a tenner, we are happy. Hopefully not for everyone.

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