In an ideal world, it’d be easy to shop ethically. Ethically-produced goods would be widely available and inexpensive, with clearly-laid out facts to back up their claims. But is ethical shopping too difficult and expensive?
Recent research from Ethical Consumer suggests that ethical shopping may not be restricted to the posh end of the high street. Its newly-published buying guide for clothes shops places New Look, Ann Harvey, Mango and Uniqlo as the most ethical brands, none of which are known for charging premium prices.
Meanwhile, the likes of Benetton and John Lewis finished in the bottom half of the table, demonstrating that paying more for clothes doesn’t guarantee that they’ve been made to higher ethical standards. It wasn’t all good news for cheaper shops, however, as Primark and TK Maxx were both given poor scores.
The guide’s based on a questionnaire sent to leading high street clothes shops asking for about what they’re doing, or often not doing, in terms of social and environmental responsibility.
Ethics aren’t top priority
We know from our own research that ethical considerations aren’t your top priority when it comes to shopping – just 1% of Which? members named a shop’s green/ethical policy as the most important factor, in contrast to 47% who choose based on price.
But even with the ongoing economic gloom, some shoppers are still finding a way to buy goods that have been produced with ethical principles in mind. The latest figures from the Fairtrade Foundation show that UK shoppers are buying more Fairtrade products than ever, with sales topping £1 billion for the first time in 2010 – an increase of 40% on the previous year.
I’d personally like to buy more clothes that aren’t made in a sweat shop, but there just isn’t enough information out there to make buying ethically easy. And that’s especially the case when expensive doesn’t necessarily mean ethical.
Nevertheless, Ethical Consumer’s research is an indication that it’s possible to keep your wallet and your conscience happy at the same time.
How important is ethical shopping to you? Has the downturn affected how much consideration you give to the ethics of what you buy?