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Ethical Consumption Review

Studies and thinking on current ethical consumer behaviours, institutions, ideas, interventions and campaigns.

Latest Articles

Book cover: Humanity's moment

Humanity’s Moment: a case for hope?

17th January 2024

In this personal book review, Ruth Strange, a senior researcher at Ethical Consumer, shares her thoughts on the book Humanity’s Moment: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope by Joëlle Gergis.

Joëlle is a scientist and lead author on the IPCC report concerning global water cycle changes. The book is heartfelt and personal, and packed with brutal facts about climate change impacts that many of us may have been avoiding.

But Joëlle also talks about social tipping points, and times when the unwinnable was won. She sets out examples for hope. And what feels really useful for everyday motivation is the phrase on the cover flap: “human history is an endless tug-of-war for social justice”. 

A challenging and rewarding book. 

Cover image of book Ecocide by David Whyte

Corporate structure, ecocide, and equity fines

3rd August 2023

David Whyte’s book Ecocide, presents detailed evidence of how specific companies have knowingly destroyed ecosystems in the pursuit of financial gain.

Professor Whyte challenges the idea that all we need to fix the problems around us is just better, or more robust, regulation from governments.

He also introduces the idea of 'equity fines' as one way of making progress. If an oil company, for example, is found guilty of damaging a river, rather than issuing a monetary fine, a judge could order the company to issue new shares which could be held by the affected community.

Rob Harrison from Ethical Consumer talks to David about corporate structure, ecocide and the possibilities of new community coalitions.

Produce of exploitation - front cover of report

Supermarkets and migrant workers’ rights abuses in Spain

31st March 2023

A new research report from Ethical Consumer details extensive labour exploitation in the agricultural sector in southern Spain, compiling evidence from interviews with workers, and reports published by trade unions, academics, the UN and NGOs.

The regions of Huelva and Almeria export vast quantities of fresh produce, from strawberries to tomatoes, to the UK each year. Migrant workers are key to making the vast scale of production possible.

The 'Produce of Exploitation' report shows that UK supermarkets are sourcing from these regions in which labour exploitation is endemic.

The findings of the report show that UK supermarkets must take action to address abuses including forced labour, sexual harassment, and union busting in their southern Spanish supply chains.

The research is part of our campaign to support migrant workers in southern Spain. The report was peer reviewed by Anti-Slavery International

Three people sitting at computers with headsets

A climate ranking of 10 of the largest manufacturers of computer mice and headsets

27th January 2023

A new research report from Ethical Consumer investigates 10 companies who make computer mice and headsets, and their actions and policies on carbon.

Each company we researched received an Ethical Consumer rating of best, middle or worst for carbon management and reporting. Four companies met the criteria needed to secure a best rating, with five achieving a worst rating.

The companies investigated in this report are some of the biggest brands in the computer peripheral sector, including Dell, HP, Lenovo and Toshiba.

The research is part of our Carbon Ranking Research Project, where we investigate the steps being taken by industry to address the climate emergency.

Person having eyes tested

A climate ranking of the 11 largest UK opticians chains

27th January 2023

A new research report from Ethical Consumer investigates 11 UK opticians for their actions and policies on carbon.

Each company we researched received an Ethical Consumer rating of best, middle or worst for carbon management and reporting. Only three companies in the multi-billion pound industry met the basic criteria needed to secure a middle rating. None achieved a best rating.

Although we found encouraging initiatives offering sustainable products and recycling schemes, we thought that these would have a limited impact on the industry’s carbon footprint.

The research is part of our Carbon Ranking Research Project, where we investigate the steps being taken to address the climate emergency.

Cover image of report with oil refinery on half the page and wind turnbines on other half. Title 'fossil free investment funds: a ranking of over 100 uk 'sustainable' investment funds

Fossil free investment funds report

28th November 2022

A new research report from Ethical Consumer ranks the climate policies and fossil-fuel divestment criteria of more than 100 ‘sustainable’ UK funds and trusts. Ethical Consumer believes that investment funds which are marketed under the banner of ‘sustainability’ should, as a minimum, avoid investing in the fossil fuel sector.

However, our research found that a significant number of 'sustainable' funds are still investing in fossil fuels.

Our five-star rating system aims to drive transparency, highlight best practice, and challenge the reliance on ‘engagement’ strategies in the UK asset management sector.

Cover image of report with tree in background. Closing the climate gap 2022.

Closing the Climate Gap 2022 Report

18th October 2022

Rob Harrison and Josie Wexler introduce introduce Ethical Consumer's second annual report: Closing the Climate Gap 2022: An annual report on progress towards sustainable consumer lifestyles in the UK.

Our Climate Gap reports aim to annually track the gap between our current combined consumption emissions and where they need to be by 2030. They also aim to produce a simplified list of key actions for consumers, companies and governments, and these appear across the five report cards (summary, food, heating, transport, and consumer goods).

In this second annual report we discuss how well consumers, companies and the government have worked together to achieve these goals.

Word examples of subtle forms of hate e.g. links to terrorism, queue jumping, scroungers, surge

Addressing subtle forms of hate in UK media coverage of migration

4th October 2022

A new research report designed by Stop Funding Hate and Ethical Consumer has been published, to address the problem of subtle hate in UK media coverage of migration, and to explore ways of addressing it. The research sought to answer three main questions:

  • What do we mean when we talk about more subtle forms of hate speech?
  • How can more coded forms of anti-migrant hate be more effectively identified and tackled?
  • How can societies best stand up to it and prevent it from proliferating further?

In recent years, several UK newspapers have publicly claimed to have cleaned up their act when it comes to coverage of migration. But there is concern about the prevalence of more subtle anti-migrant narratives within the UK media. One particular worry raised is that such narratives may, in some cases, have a greater impact on public perceptions than more obviously problematic headlines.

Person putting clothes into a washing machine

Home appliance brands and sustainability

August 2022

Marlous Veldt presents the findings from an in-depth ranking study looking at sustainability inside 44 manufacturers of fridges, washing machines, TVs and vacuum cleaners.

Our research found that of the 44 companies rated during the period from May 2020 to July 2021, 25 (57%) improved. This shows strong evidence that the direction of travel over the period was for improved engagement with sustainability issues. Most of the positive changes in scores came from companies’ improved carbon reporting.

Overall though, performance left a lot be desired. Only 13 (30%) of the 44 companies appeared to demonstrate a reasonable understanding of the sustainability issues that were relevant to them and of the need to take action with immediate effect.

Business people sitting around laptop with paper and pens

Amazon earns millions from UK universities

July 2022

Edward Lander reports on the results of a Freedom of Information request made by Ethical Consumer in 2022.

Ethical Consumer sent out a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to 134 UK universities in February 2022 to find out how much the UK higher education sector has spent on Amazon in recent years. 93 universities replied with data.

Our calculations show that higher education has become more reliant on Amazon in the past three years, with 63% of universities increasing their purchasing with the company. The research found that the average annual Amazon spend for UK universities reached £151,728.93 in 2021.

We have calculated that Amazon secured more than £20 million of income from UK universities in that year. This is despite Ethical Consumer's own figures showing that Amazon's aggressive tax avoidance practices could be depriving the UK exchequer of around £500 million.

Crowd of people on climate change protest with banners

Ethical buying by local authorities

January 2022

Buying ethically is not something that just individuals do. We can also see it happening in clubs, societies, businesses, charities, local authorities and governments. In this second extract from the 'Handbook of Ethical Purchasing', Rob Harrison introduces the five types we tend to see in local governments around the world.

These are: solidarity purchasing, buying locally or for local economic impact, sustainable procurement, social procurement, and attention to investments and assets.

It is estimated that public sector purchasing represents between 11% and 18% of the UK’s gross domestic product and is similar in other countries. There is therefore real potential to improve people’s lives if this kind of ethical purchasing were more widely adopted.

Punnets of strawberries

Locked down, locked in and locked out: The forbidden fruits of female labour

December 2021

This essay explores the role of gender in the exploitation of agricultural workers in Southern Spain.

Huelva, a province in southern Spain, is the country's top agricultural province, part of a globalized agri-food chain managed by multinationals and commercial distributors (Women’s Link International, 2019). Strawberries are so valuable to the economy of this area that they are nicknamed ‘Spain’s red gold’.

In order to meet high demand for exported fruit while maintaining high profit margins, after the drop in seasonal migrants due to EU migration policies, the farming industry began advertising for seasonal workers in their countries of origin (notably in Morocco and Eastern Europe), and almost exclusively recruited women.

Cover of The Handbook of Ethical Purchasing book

The Handbook of Ethical Purchasing - new book

October 2021

In October 2021, a new book was launched by Rob Harrison, one of the original founders of Ethical Consumer.

The Handbook of Ethical Purchasing is designed to help both ordinary people and industry professionals to understand the movement towards ethical buying, its political background and, most importantly, how to become involved more effectively.

This article explains more about the book, and then shares the first of a series of extracts which appeared in issue 193 Ethical Consumer magazine. The extract discusses the notion of purchaser power, and uses a couple of historic boycott campaigns by way of example. These include the Alabama Bus boycotts of the 1960 and the Shell boycott of 1995.

Cover of Climate Gap report

Climate Gap Report 2021 - Our new report looks at the gap between our current combined consumption emissions and where they need to be by 2030.

October 2021

It is widely recognised that the next ten years will be critical in turning around global carbon emissions. As one of Ethical Consumer’s contributions to this process, we plan to produce an ‘Annual Climate Gap Report on Progress Towards Sustainable Consumer Lifestyles in the UK’.

The 2021 report, launched during Ethical Consumer Week on October 19th, will be the first in a series.

It aims to track the gap between our current combined consumption emissions and where they need to be by 2030.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) was set up under the Climate Change Act 2008 to advise the UK government on decarbonisation. The CCC’s 200-page reports have provided most of the data for three of the impact areas we are examining for this Report: Food, Transport and Heating. A core element in this project is therefore trying to convert the CCC’s work into something more digestible for ordinary consumers. For the fourth impact area, Consumer Goods, we have conducted our own research and extrapolated targets and campaigns from elsewhere.

A key goal is to produce a simplified list of key actions for consumers, companies and governments too.

The 2021 has 5 key findings - read on to find out more.

disposable coffee cup
from EC coffee guide

UK Coffee shops fail to convince on climate change - A report on carbon management and reporting at nine UK coffee shop chains.

May 2020

As public awareness of climate change has increased, some coffee shop chains have been forced to acknowledge consumer demand for more sustainable products and services. This has led to shift towards a ‘greener’ image for many brands, often characterised by reusable cups and plastic alternatives which, in the grand scheme of things, do little towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

We set out to find out what some of the UK's Coffee chains were doing to address and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Each company researched received an Ethical Consumer rating of best, middle or worst for carbon management and reporting.

Our rating results show a need to seriously question why some of the UKs biggest coffee chains are failing in the carbon reduction department.

airbnb report cover

The airbnb "movement" for deregulation

This report is about the ethics and transparency of corporate political organising. Its case study is Airbnb, one of the biggest companies in the ‘platform’ economy, who resources, mobilises and coordinates its landlords as political advocates to lobby for its preferred forms of regulation.

Airbnb presents carefully curated and intensively coordinated groups of landlords with a single room or property as ‘people power’: independent grassroots groups who share its policy preferences. This offers the company legitimacy and additional political influence to protect a business model that is increasingly dominated by professional accommodation providers.

The report examines Airbnb’s ‘home-sharing clubs’: associations of selected Airbnb landlords that are trained to advocate for favourable regulation. It analyses documents and interviews twenty-one former Airbnb public policy staff who worked across fourteen countries in North America and Europe, in the most intensive and sustained platform-sponsored grassroots lobbying strategy in the world to date.

Shooting wildlife 3 cover

Shooting Wildlife III

This report explores the debates surrounding the ethics and impacts of sport hunting and updates the 2016 and 2018 ‘Shooting Wildlife?’ reports – examining how 30 optics companies approach this sensitive subject.

It also expands on the scope of the first two Shooting Wildlife reports to explore optics companies’ links with the military (due to this industry’s large impact on the environment and therefore wildlife), and their approaches to managing their own environment and climate impacts in line with international agreements such as the Paris Agreement on climate change.

As part of the research, we contacted all 30 optics companies featured in the 2018 report, asking for thoughts on the issues raised and requesting information about current environment and climate policies and changes to company policy and practice since 2018. 29 companies are reviewed in this report as the Alpen brand is now distributed by Bresser USA and is therefore included in Bresser’s profile in this report.


Oxfam’s Behind the Barcodes Campaign

A review of Oxfam's current campaign to ‘end human suffering in supermarket supply chains’. Rob Harrison (October 2019)

In June 2018 Oxfam International launched a new global campaign to ‘end human suffering in supermarket supply chains’. Part of this campaign involves producing an annual ranking of major food retailers like Tesco and Walmart against four key social benchmarks, and calling on consumers to contact them using social media to ask them to improve their performance. The first annual update was published in July 2019.

This article explains what the campaign is, explores Oxfam Great Britain’s (GB’s) role in it, and looks at what it might be able to do to increase its impact. It also looks at the campaign against the wider backdrop of large NGOs becoming attracted to the use of ranking corporates as a way of driving social progress…or at least as a way of preventing further social decline.

instagram phone

Living the Good Life on Instagram

An exploration of lay understandings of what it means to live well. Anastasia Loukianov (August 2019)

While the consumerist approach to what living well can mean permeates traditional media, the extent to which it appears in people’s own depictions of the good life is unclear. As the unsustainability of the consumerist approach is increasingly evidenced, both in terms of environmental and social impacts, looking into which understandings of the good life resonate with people becomes essential.

This article uses a sample of posts tagged #goodlife and variants originally collected in 2014-2015 on Instagram (a popular image sharing platform) to explore which understandings of the good life can be found on the platform.