The Quick Ethical Comparison Tables: Reading the Symbols
The summary tables that appear in each product section are designed to give readers a quick, at-a-glance view of the overall ethicality scores awarded to different companies and brands. The Good Shopping Guide methodology for these tables involved mathematically amalgamating the results of the detailed ethical comparison tables, based on the Ethical Company Index, to produce three broad groups.
Sample table for ‘Shoes & Trainers’
*The Good Shopping Guide ‘BUY’ column contains brands and companies which, taking every category into account, score well in that particular product sector. These companies may apply to use The Good Shopping Guide ethical accreditation logo on packaging and marketing materials.
*We apply the question mark symbol to brands and companies which score in the middle section of their individual product sector. This will mean that they have scored highly in some areas of the ethicality audit but have done less well in others.
*The ‘AVOID’ column contains brands and companies which score in the lowest section of their product sector. This will mean that they have not scored as highly as other companies in a number of categories included in the ethicality audit.
Our research relates to the records of the companies behind the brands. In some cases apparently ethical brands score much lower than the public would expect because the ultimate holding company is involved in less ethical practices – often on behalf of other brands in their wider brand portfolios. For example:
- A skincare brand certified by Cruelty-Free International’s Leaping Bunny receives a bottom rating under Animal Welfare. This is because the Company Group, is criticised by Animal Welfare organisations for animal testing
- A Fairtrade certified chocolate brand is given a middle rating under Fair Trade. This is because the majority of the chocolate brands owned by the Company Group are not Fairtrade certified.
See below for a detailed breakdown of how the ratings are awarded for each category.
The category definitions
The detailed tables have been tailored to each particular industry so that we can now reveal more detailed information about all of the companies. For instance, in Ethical Food & Drink we reward companies that are involved in fair trade, and in Ethical Money we penalise banks which have invested in projects that have caused outrage among environmental and human rights campaigners. The following categories are included in each section of The Good Shopping Guide:
The quality of a company’s environmental reporting can say a lot about its ethical standards. As such reports become more commonplace it is getting easier to rate companies on their code of ethics and their efforts toward corporate social responsibility: a good report will contain fixed targets as opposed to vague statements of intent.
Companies which fail to publish a report get a bottom (red) rating; companies with inadequate reports get a middle (orange) rating. To earn the top (green) rating the report must be dated within the last two years and must set concrete and company-wide performance targets; it also has to demonstrate an understanding of the company’s main impacts. Many of the corporations that have attracted most criticism have actually produced exemplary environmental reports.
Exception is made for small companies without the resources to publish an elaborate annual report (i.e. companies whose turnover is less than £2 million a year). Companies which were launched with the aim of helping people, animals or the environment are rewarded with a middle rating but must have some sort of environmental policy or report to earn a top ethical rating. These include businesses that provide fair trade, organic, vegetarian, cruelty-free or environmentally-friendly alternatives. (This is for tables which have been updated from 2010 onwards).
Nuclear power is a target for social and environmental campaigners for two main reasons: its link to the production of nuclear weapons and the pollutant properties of radioactive waste. Nuclear waste remains dangerous for 250,000 years, and this greatly increases the security problem attached to its potential for use in nuclear weapons. The nuclear industry argues that, as an electricity generator which does not produce greenhouse gases, it should have a role in combating climate change. However, environmental campaigners would prefer to support a sustainable future through energy conservation and the development of ‘cleaner’ power sources such as sun, wind and wave power.
Some nuclear industry specialists are also involved in the production of goods and these are reflected in the tables. A bottom rating indicates the company is involved in the design, construction or operation of nuclear power stations, radioactive waste handling and/or the mining, processing or reprocessing of uranium. It also may indicate the production of other nuclear-related equipment, such as monitoring facilities. Companies receive a bottom rating if they are listed in the Buyers’ Guide of Nuclear Engineering International or are a member of the World Nuclear Association, Nuclear Industry Association or World Nuclear Transport Institute.
Genetic Modification (GM)
No one really knows the possible effects of GM food on our health and the environment and the public and certain NGOs are therefore anxious about their use. Releasing genetically altered organisms into the environment could disrupt ecosystems, and genetically modified crops have been proved to be more harmful to many groups of wildlife than their conventional equivalent.
New 2004 EU regulations for the labelling of genetically modified foods and feed require that all food products that make direct use of GMOs at any point in their production are subjected to labeling requirements, regardless of whether or not GMO content is detectable in the end product. GMO content that is below the prescribed threshold remains unlabelled, as long as it is due to an unintentional and technically unavoidable mixture. The threshold only applies to GMO content that has been authorized in the EU, and therefore is considered safe. (Source: GM Compass).
In the food and drink section a bottom ethical rating indicates that the company uses GM ingredients in any of their products. A middle rating is given to companies which do not have a stated policy on their website regarding the use of foods or ingredients which contain GMO’s in their products but where no negative records were found, or, in the case of supermarkets, where the company does not expressly rule out ingredients derived from animals fed on GM crops in their own brand products. The top ethical rating is awarded to companies which clearly state that they do not use GM ingredients in their products (and, for supermarkets, ingredients derived from animals fed on GM crops).
In our section on cafes, the top ethical rating is awarded if no criticisms relating to genetic modification have been found. In our chapter on supermarkets, the top ethical rating is given if no own brand products contain GM ingredients or ingredients derived from animals fed on GM crops; the middle ethical rating indicates that no own brand product contains GM ingredients.
In the Ethical Health & Beauty section, the bottom ethical rating is given to companies involved in the non-medical genetic modification of plants or animals or to companies that use GM in their products.
Non-organic farming reduces biodiversity, encourages irreversible soil erosion and generates run-off that is awash with harmful chemicals. Organic produce is grown or made without the use of synthetic fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and other man made ‘inputs’.
In the Ethical Food & Drink section a green circle indicates that one or more of the company’s food or drink products is approved by the Soil Association (www.soilassociation.org) or another organic certification body.
The Ethical Health & Beauty section is broken down into sub-sections* for the purposes of rating organic certification, which are as follows:
- Cold Remedies, Eye Care Products, Pain Remedies and Vitamins
- Make-up, Shampoo & Conditioner, Skincare, Soap, Sun Protection and Toothpaste
- Feminine Care and Nappies
So for example, a company with a vitamin brand and a feminine care brand which only has organic certification for the vitamins, would only receive a top rating for organic within the Vitamins research.
*this is a change to historic research and will take effect in all tables updated after April 2015
In High Street Fashion a company only gets the top ethical rating if they sell one or more own brand product lines made of organic material.
In our section on cafés, the top ethical rating indicates that only organic coffee is served; the middle ethical rating indicates that some organic products are available; the bottom ethical rating indicates that no organic products are sold at all.
In our chapter on supermarkets, the top ethical rating is given to those companies that have the widest range of own-brand organic products (i.e. over 100 product ranges). The bottom ethical rating indicates that no own-brand organic products are sold. (This is for tables which have been updated from 2010 onwards).
Home & Office Eco Schemes
Energy Saving Recommended
The Energy Saving Recommended logo was established by the Energy Saving Trust (www.est.org.uk) and guarantees a high standard of energy efficiency. The logo appears on a wide range of household appliances, including fridges, freezers, dishwashers, washing machines, tumble dryers, light bulbs, light fittings, gas boilers and heating controls. A green circle indicates that one or more of the company’s products is recommended by the Energy Saving Trust.
Products that bear the EU Eco-label flower have passed a number of criteria relating to the environment and performance. The scheme covers everything from paints to tissues to computers, but remains very much in a nascent state in the UK. A green circle indicates that one or more of the company’s products bears the Eco-label.
This category only applies to office products. TCO Development sets the world’s toughest standard for environmental and employee-friendly office equipment. To earn the TCO badge each product has to pass at least 50 tests relating to emission levels, energy consumption, ergonomic design and ecological soundness. A green circle indicates that one or more of the company’s products is approved by TCO Development.
An Ecolabel certification shows that a product or service is produced with less impact on the environment and can help people make informed choices. Some labels look at the overall environmental impact of a product or service from its inception to final disposal (life cycle assessment) whilst other labels only focus on certain environmental aspects.
Manufacturers can also produce their own labels to show that the product meets internal standard set by the company. A top ethical rating in this column indicates that one or more of the company’s products (within the sector being researched) bear a Type I Ecolabel (as defined by the International Organisation for Standardization) such as TCO Development, Blue Angel, Nordic Swan, the EU Ecolabel (Eco Flower), Japan’s Eco Mark, etc. Type I labels ensure that the product or service meets strict environmental standards based on life cycle considerations and are awarded and monitored by an independent third party. EPAT certification also earns a top ethical rating in this column, as it addresses the full product lifecycle, from design and production to energy use and recycling. Companies with products bearing only the Energy Star label receive a middle ethical rating because this label only certifies energy consumption.
Timber Sourcing Policy
This category only applies to our chapter on ethical furniture. Unsustainable forest management, where too many trees are removed too quickly or entire forests are being logged, is increasing due to huge demand for timber and paper products. This contributes to global deforestation and climate change and threatens the wildlife and communities that are dependent on them. Laws to control logging in key areas and stop the trade in products from illegal sources are often broken. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and The Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) work to improve forest management worldwide and operate independent third-party certification guaranteeing the wood is from sustainably managed forests. The top ethical rating is given to companies* where the majority (50%+) of all timber products sold are certified (FSC or PEFC) or recycled; a middle ethical rating is given to companies where less than 50% of all timber products sold are certified/recycled and a bottom ethical rating is given where no published policy/information/specific figures are available or the company did not respond to a request by the Ethical Company Organisation for information/clarification.
*these ratings are awarded by brand/retailer rather than company group
This category only applies to the Ethical Money section, and to our section on cars. The bottom ethical rating represents involvement in a project in the last five years that has drawn widespread criticism from environmental NGOs and campaigners.
This category only applies to our chapter on petrol stations. The top ethical rating indicates that the company is investing a significant proportion of its net income (about 5 per cent) into renewable energy. The middle ethical rating shows that the company has put some investment into renewables; companies who have not invested at all receive the bottom ethical rating.
Working with an excellent organisation called Brand Emissions we publish carbon emission data for many of the UK’s brands. Brand Emissions gives the best scores to brands which are actively reducing their emissions or already have relatively low emissions or have ambitious targets to reduce emissions further and publish the evidence necessary to verify these facts.
At the end of the 20th century, nearly three million animals per year were used in UK experiments alone. Worldwide, over 100 million animals are subjected to tests. Most tests are carried out on mice, rats, guinea pigs, birds, fish and rabbits, but other animals including dogs, cats and primates will be used. The testing of products such as lipstick and washing-up liquid accounts for a tiny fraction of animal tests. The vast majority is done in the name of medical research, to test new drugs. But animals are also used in the testing of weapons, pesticides, food additives, and in psychology experiments.
All new chemical ingredients are required by law to be tested on animals. Regulatory bodies list a number of tests that must be carried out before an ingredient can be registered. Alternative, non-animal tests such as tissue and cell cultures, computer production, clinical studies and the use of skin fragments do exist for all the standard toxicity and irritancy tests. But the process of ‘validating’ these alternative methods has been obstructed, according to Cruelty Free International, by industry and regulatory bodies’ reluctance to accept these new methods.
Companies need to do two things in order to behave responsibly and show an honest code of ethics:
- Invest heavily in developing alternative, non-animal tests and lobby to get them validated
- Postpone the search for new ingredients and use the 8,000 established ingredients until non-animal alternatives to all animal tests have been validated.
Companies are penalised in the Animal Welfare column if they conduct or commission animal testing, whether for medical, cosmetic or other purposes. They are also penalised if they have been the subject of continuing criticism from animal rights organisations such as Cruelty Free International (previously the BUAV) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
In the product sectors listed below, a top ethical rating is only given to those companies which:
- * have products which carry the Leaping Bunny mark as certified by Cruelty-Free International. These companies’ supply-chains are independently audited, operate a fixed cut-off date (FCOD), and avoid ingredients which were tested on animals after a specified year, OR
- Cleaning products
- Laundry Detergents
- Shampoo & Conditioners
- Sun Protection
- Washing-up Liquid
- * do not sell products outside the EU. Since 2013, personal care products tested on animals can no longer be sold in Europe – even if the testing was done outside Europe (if they are sold outside the EU, the above mentioned certification is required)
Companies that do not conduct or commission animal testing get the middle ethical rating.
Within the Paint section, a top rating is awarded to companies which have an Animal Testing Policy or statement, confirming that they not test their products on animals. A middle rating is awarded to companies which do not have a policy, but where no criticisms for animal testing has been found. A bottom rating is awarded to companies which have been subject to criticisms by animal welfare groups for animal cruelty/testing.
This column rewards companies’ support for a meat-free lifestyle. Apart from the moral questions that surround killing animals for food, going vegan is better from an ecological standpoint too, since animal products are extremely inefficient to produce.
Products approved by the Vegetarian Society are awarded with the seedling showcase logo and must meet the following criteria:
- Free from animal flesh (meat, fowl, fish or shellfish), meat or bone stock, animal or carcass fats, gelatine, aspic or any other ingredients resulting from slaughter
- Contain only free range eggs, where eggs are used
- Free from GMOs
- Cruelty free – no animal testing
- No cross contamination during the production process. If the production line is shared with non-vegetarian products, thorough cleaning must be carried out before vegetarian production commences. Strict procedures must be in place to ensure packaging mix-ups and other errors do not occur
For a product to be approved by the Vegan Society, there must be no animal ingredients, animal-derived additives, animal fibres, milks, or milk derivatives; there must be no bee products, dairy products or by-products, eggs, human-derived substances, and slaughter by-products.
This category only applies to the Ethical Food & Drink and the Ethical Health & Beauty sections of the site, where a green circle indicates that one or more of the company’s food or drink products or personal care products respectively is approved by the Vegetarian Society (www.vegsoc.org) or the Vegan Society (www.vegansociety.com). (This is for tables which have been updated from 2010 onwards).
In the 1990s NGOs and labour organisations began to look more closely at the global supply chains of big companies, and discovered that people working for these companies in the developing world were regularly subjected to 80-hour weeks, enforced overtime, unsafe factories and humiliating physical tests. These problems have not gone away, and multinational corporations are only beginning to take responsibility for the unacceptable working conditions of their suppliers.
Companies and businesses are penalised in this column if, in the last 5 years, they have been implicated in human rights abuses (either through their supply chain, or through their involvement in a project that has proven links with human rights abuses, or through their economic presence in Burma). A bottom ethical rating indicates more than one serious criticism.
This category is used in the Ethical Home & Office and Ethical Fashion sections. In other sections of the site, it is subsumed in the more widely defined Public Record Criticisms category.
Code of Conduct
The top ethical rating is awarded to those companies which have drawn up a comprehensive supplier code of conduct that formally acknowledges the right to form a union. The code must be publicly available, and it must regulate against excessive working hours and forced or child labour. This category is used in the Ethical Fashion section and is being introduced into research for electronics companies within the Ethical Home & Office section.
In the table, the middle ethical rating represents involvement in the manufacture or supply of nuclear or conventional weapons, including ships, tanks, armoured vehicles and aircraft; components of weapons systems; fuel, computing and communications services; systems aiding the launch, guidance, delivery or deployment of missiles. Non-strategic parts of the military, such as catering services, are not included in this list.
The bottom ethical rating indicates that the business was listed as one of the world’s 100 biggest arms-producing companies in the latest list published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
We include this column because we do not believe that corporations should fund political parties. There is considerable evidence that the huge wealth of corporations can distort the political process. Elections in the USA in particular can appear to be ‘bought’ by the candidate with the biggest budget, and parties that are critical of business are quickly marginalised. In some countries, such as Germany, corporate funding is quite sensibly prohibited by law. Until that occurs in the UK, people who agree with this position can use our ethical rankings’ tables to withdraw their custom from political donors.
A middle rating indicates that the company and/or company employees and/or company Political Action Committees (PACs) have donated more than £10,000 (or the equivalent in US Dollars) in the last 5 years to a party-political organization in the UK or the US. A bottom rating indicates that the more than £50,000 (or the equivalent in US Dollars) has been donated as listed by the Centre for Responsive Politics (www.opensecrets.org) and Influence Explorer (http://influenceexplorer.com/) in the US and the Electoral Commission in the UK (www.electoralcommission.gov.uk).
Fair trade ensures that producers are paid regularly and guaranteed a minimum price. This price covers the cost of production, the payment of workers, and the development of farms and small-holdings. Fair trade protects small farmers from the fluctuating prices that have previously pushed many below the poverty line.
In our section on ethical cafés, the top ethical rating is awarded to those companies that exclusively sell coffee certified with the Fairtrade Mark (www.fairtrade.org.uk); the middle rating indicates that some fair trade coffee is served; the bottom rating shows that fair trade coffee is not served at all. Similar criteria apply to our Tea & Coffee, Chocolate, Bananas and Sugar tables: companies specialising in these products are rewarded with a top ethical rating if the majority of their tea and/or coffee (or chocolate, bananas, sugar as applicable) is certified Fairtrade; companies with only some Fairtrade lines receive a middle ethical rating. Companies with no Fairtrade certified products receive a bottom ethical rating.
In the other tables within the Ethical Food & Drink and Ethical Fashion sections of The Good Shopping Guide a top rating indicates that one or more of the company’s food or drink products or textile products respectively is certified by the Fairtrade Mark.
As we all presently live in a free-market economy, we have learned to accept that the language of marketing tends to accentuate the positive and play down the negative. The point at which this becomes ‘irresponsible’ is difficult to define, but we focus mainly on those practices that have direct health implications. The bottom ethical rating indicates the marketing of products in a way that has been criticised for its effect on public health. This category only applies to the Ethical Health & Beauty section of the site.
This column can be problematic since a boycott may be called by groups across the political spectrum. It is important, therefore, to be clear about the reasons why a particular boycott has been called.
Some campaign groups have problems with boycotts. For example, development charities CAFOD and Oxfam contend that boycotts of companies involved in workers’ rights abuses could put workers’ livelihoods at risk. However, boycotts can be a useful means of exerting economic pressure and can encourage companies to change their policies.
A bottom rating indicates that a boycott of either the brand or the company group has been called (and has not been dropped). For more information on specific ongoing UK boycotts, visit www.ethicalconsumer.org.
Public Record Criticism
A bottom rating indicates more than one serious criticism in the last five years from NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and Friends of the Earth. The huge range of criticism covered in this column mainly relates to the environment and human rights. Undue political influence, exercised through lobby groups and industry associations, and involvement in political corruption, are also represented in this column.
Companies have been penalised if they are part-owned by a separate company which has been the subject of severe criticism from campaign groups or is heavily involved in the armaments and nuclear industries. For instance, Pret a Manger has received a bottom rating because it is a third-owned by McDonalds. If a company owns more than half of another company’s shares, it is listed as the company group.
In the Ethical Home & Office and Ethical Fashion sections of The Good Shopping Guide, this category is split into the Human Rights and Other Criticism columns.
While there are many single-issue certification bodies which ensure standards for organic produce, fair trade or energy efficiency, the Ethical Company or Ethical Award logos cover the whole spectrum of ethical concerns and grants approval at a corporate rather than product level. These logos certify the company rather than the product, so that, while Nestlé’s Partner’s Blend may be approved by the Fairtrade Foundation, Nestlé itself would not qualify for Ethical Accreditation.
The companies which have gained Ethical Accreditation have been thoroughly screened and scrutinised by our team of researchers, ensuring that only companies that are eco friendly and have a strong code of ethics, a strong business ethics, and an unwavering commitment to corporate social responsibility, have the privilege to wear the Ethical Company and Ethical Award logos.
Ethical Company Index
The Ethical Company Index provides one overall score for each company. The top, middle and bottom ethical ratings on the ethical rankings detailed tables count as ten, five and zero points respectively. Some categories, however, are weighted slightly differently according to the level of NGO and consumer concern. For instance, due to the number of reported human rights violations in the supply chains of electronics manufacturers and clothes companies, a clean record scores 20 points in these product sectors.
Each company’s total ethical score is then converted into a percentage, which becomes the Ethical Company Index.
In this column, mutual building societies and organisations which are not for the profit of shareholders are identified with a top rating. Mutuals only invest in mortgages, and so never get involved in business projects condemned by many of the world’s NGOs. They make important policy decisions democratically, with each saver entitled to one vote.
Ethical Investment Policy
It is promising to see our financial institutions starting to introduce ethical criteria into their lending policies. While for now these are often no more than token gestures, we hope that the trend will continue to grow. The middle ethical rating is given for any kind of ethical policy or if the company is an Equator Principles member*; a top rating represents a policy that goes beyond negative screening, and gives priority to projects that are socially or environmentally beneficial.
*The Equator Principles is a risk management framework, adopted by financial institutions, for determining, assessing and managing environmental and social risk in projects and is primarily intended to provide a minimum standard for due diligence to support responsible risk decision-making. Full details can be found by visiting the Equator Principles website.
The bottom rating represents involvement in a project in the last five years that has drawn widespread criticism from environmental NGOs and campaigners.
Other Irresponsible Lending
A bottom rating indicates involvement in a project in the last five years that has drawn widespread criticism from human rights groups.
A middle rating indicates that the company and/or company employees and/or company Political Action Committees (PACs) have donated more than £10,000 (or the equivalent in US Dollars) in the last 5 years to a party-political organization in the UK or the US. A bottom rating indicates either that donations over £50,000 (or equivalent in US Dollars) have been made to a political party in the UK or the US in the last five years, or that the bank/financial institution has been criticised by NGOs such as the World Development Movement (WDM) for its involvement in lobby groups.
Ethical Trading Schemes
The top ethical rating is awarded to those companies which are members of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) or are affiliated to the Fair Labor Association (FLA). This guarantees that the company’s supply chain is subject to independent scrutiny.
Since 2002 under the Renewables Obligation schemes for England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, energy companies have been required to source an increasing proportion of their energy from renewable sources. The minimum requirement for 2011/12 was 12% (5.5% for Northern Ireland whose order came into effect in April 2005). These schemes were introduced by the Department of Trade and Industry, the Scottish Executive and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment respectively and are administered by the Gas and Electricity Markets Authority (whose day to day functions are performed by Ofgem).
The top ethical rating indicates that over 50% of the company’s energy is generated only from renewable sources. The middle rating indicates that the company generates more than 12% (or 5.5% for companies operating in Northern Ireland) of its energy from renewable sources. Companies that do not reach the minimum target are given a bottom rating.
The ethical rankings detailed tables: reading the symbols
The long tables that run in each product section are designed to give readers an in-depth view of the ethical performance of different companies and brands. All the tables on this site are based on extensive research carried out by The Good Shopping Guide. The methodology behind their easy-to-read format is outlined below.
- Top ethical rating: a green circle indicates that we have found no criticisms or negative records
- Middle ethical rating: an orange circle shows that there are some criticisms or negative records in this category
- Bottom ethical rating: a red circle indicates the highest level of criticism and negative records in this category
The above table is organised with the brand name, under which the product is sold, on the left and the company group, which is ultimately responsible for the brand, below in grey text. At the top of the table are the categories, which are explained in detail above.
The ratings on these tables represent criticism from environmental and human rights organisations across the world. Information from a wide variety of sources – from government agencies as well as NGOs – has been compiled by the Ethical Company Organisation’s team of researchers between July 2007 and December 2014 (research updates pending). Results for companies may occasionally vary from table to table.
Link to Buy
We are constantly updating the links to buy, which have been selected on the basis that they are suitable purchase points.
Research Tables & Dates
We’re constantly working to update existing research, including the tables displayed on this site, as well as provide new ethical research audits across all sectors. Due to the in-depth nature of our research, and the time and money it takes to regularly update and manage The Ethical Company Organisation’s research programme, we have organised a grassroots funding campaign (see below). All of our research is made available for free so that everyone can have equal access to it and make informed, positive purchasing decisions. If you would like to help with keeping the research up-to-date and support further research developments, please feel free to make a donation below.