Life & Style, Resources

How to Shop Online Ethically

traidcraft alternative to amazon
how to shop online ethically
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The thought of battling through a busy high street isn’t always that appealing, particularly when you could shop from the comfort of your own home; a cosy cafe; or, perhaps more realistically for many of us, on the commute home.

Online shopping currently accounts for 17.1% of all UK retail, and despite what the headlines might lead us to believe, it isn’t all bad; particularly if you make your purchases via an ethical, internet-based, store.  Ethical Consumer have handily put together this guide for Moral Fibres readers on how to shop online ethically.

Don’t worry, be happy – online shopping

Amazon currently has a 33.5% market share of all the online shopping in the UK and it’s growing. The size and scale of their online operation, alongside store closures dubbed ‘the death of the high street’, seems to have helped typecast online retailers as the villains.

But look a little closer and there doesn’t appear to be much reason to view its bad ethics as a consequence of it selling online.

Consider before you click

The market for ethical goods is growing on- and off-line. In 2016, the ethical market was valued at £81.3 billion. Ethical Consumer rated 24 websites, which offer a variety of products marketed as ethical for its latest Ethical Online Retailer Guide. The shops rated were based on feedback from readers about which ethical online stores they regularly used.

There are ethical online stores for almost everything now; some sell food, others cosmetics, and some clothing or a combination of the three. Lots of them provide products under the label ‘gifts’ making them a perfect place to pick up presents for family and friends.

There are some key considerations to keep in mind to be sure you’re ethical online shop is just that.

The researchers at Ethical Consumer probed three key areas: company ethos; supply chain management; and animal testing, to help them create their Ethiscore rating.

1.  Ethical supply chains

Alternatives online to Amazon
Image c/o Traidcraft

Having clear policies about how to monitor supplier’s guarantees of workers’ rights is a key indicator in the Ethical Consumer Supply Chain Management rating. Companies such as Traidcraft, Oxfam*, Shared Earth and Amnesty did this through only sourcing ethically certified products e.g. fair trade. Others showed commitment to monitoring their suppliers against workers’ rights provisions. Nkuku, who sell homewares and lifestyle products ranging from photo frames to sofas, went further, stating that it carried out “unscheduled checks to ensure the fairtrade principles are maintained”.

Ethical Shop is a treasure trove of ethical products, from everyday cleaning products, to cosmetics, gifts and food. It had the clearest ethical buying policy, which included clear definitions of workers’ rights that suppliers had to meet. It requires suppliers to report progress on implementing their code annually either by describing actions taken or completing a questionnaire.

2.  Charity online

online alternatives to Amazon

Image c/o Sourced by Oxfam

When shopping and philanthropy combine, that’s surely a win-win combination? UK charities are stalwarts of the high-street, but many of them are now also hosting impressive online shopping sites that offer far more than the second-hand clothes and books they were traditionally associated with.

Many of them now source their own-brand products, which support the aims of the charity. Oxfam* offers consumers a chance to buy products that support projects that help people trade their way out of poverty. It also sells products that have been handcrafted or made by projects that specifically benefit women. 100% of its profits raised from sales of ‘Sourced by Oxfam’ are reinvested into the charity’s projects.

Animal rights charities Animal Aid and Viva! retail only vegan products, with everything on offer from vegan wines to soy candles.

3.  Animal Testing

alternatives to amazon
image c/o Acala

Cosmetics are a clear growth area in the ethical personal products category. New online stores like Acala, for example, specialise in natural, organic and vegan health and beauty products. It also ensures that all products are responsibly packaged and are plastic free.

Many of the companies reviewed sold cosmetics labelled as being cruelty-free, but there was a lack of definition over what this meant. The Ethical Consumer Animal Testing rating expects all companies retailing cosmetics to have a policy that includes a fixed cut-off date for animal-tested ingredients. Cruelty Free International explains: “A company’s fixed cut-off date is a date after which none of the substances in the products have been tested on animals. A fixed cut-off date enables a company to enforce their animal testing policy and gives suppliers a practical way to move away from animal testing.”

An example of best practise in this area was animal rights charity Animal Aid whose own brand products, made by Honesty Cosmetics, are approved under the Humane Cosmetics Standard and registered with the Vegan Society, with a 1976 fixed cut-off date (FCOD).

Why are we still using Amazon?

So why do so many consumers still turn to the likes of Amazon? A quick poll of Ethical Consumer followers provided answers; when you’re in a hurry, need something specialist, and price is a consideration, then finding an ethical alternative isn’t always that easy. So it’s worth remembering that whilst John Lewis* and Co-op Electrical Shop ranked lower down the latest Ethiscore table, they still score very highly compared to other online retailers, like Amazon.

And tech solutions might be just the thing to help counter the Amazon monopoly in the future. Keep an eye on Near St – it’s an app that only covers London at the moment, but they have plans to expand. Recognising that many people shop online because they can find the thing they want rather than ‘chancing it’ in a physical store, NearSt allows you to search for an item, find shops selling it, buy it and immediately collect it or have it couriered home.

For more ideas about how to make specialist online purchases for items like books and tablets, and other advice on how to shop online ethically check out the Amazon Alternatives guides at Ethical Consumer.

weekend links

Ten Things

bench beside beach
bench beside beach

Hiya!  What’s new with you?  Good week?  Mine flew past, but come Friday I realised I’d spent most of the week indoors.  To rectify this we nipped over to Fife and spent yesterday at the beach – cups of tea in hand and wrapped up like polar explorers, mind – but feeling better for fresh October air, exercise and a bit of sunshine.  Getting outdoors is always my answer to most of life’s problems. 

This week’s links:

1. The big news this week is that the EU has approved a ban on single-use plastics.  The UK will have to incorporate the rules into national law if the ban becomes a fully-fledged directive before the end of a Brexit transition period, so here’s hoping they can move faster than we can with Brexit.

2.  18 earthquakes have been recorded since fracking began 12 days ago in Lancashire.  

3.  A really great piece of journalism, investigating a note found inside a Walmart purse, implying forced Chinese labour.  As the article is American, the article doesn’t mention that Walmart is the company that owns Asda.  Just so you know.    

4.  Why you might want to avoid Topshop, Dorothy Perkins, Miss Selfridge, Burton, Wallis and other high street stores owned by the Arcadia group.  

5.  This 15 year old is my new hero.  Maybe she’s yours too?

Some people say that we should study to become climate scientists so that we can “solve the climate crisis”. But the climate crisis has already been solved. We already have all the facts and solutions. All we need to do is to wake up and change“.

6.  10 ways to accelerate progress against climate change.

7.  David Byrne is one of my favourite musicians (this is one of my very favourite songs).  So his latest venture – the Reasons to Be Cheerful website – a collection of good news was sure to be a good one.   Here you can find good news related to a variety of topics – including climate change.

8.  In related news, here’s a summary of what went right between July and September.

9.  Hallowe’en’s a coming!  This year we’re being urged not to throw out our pumpkins in a bid to prevent ghoulish food waste.  

10.  Finally, I am running a great giveaway over on Instagram.  Hop on over and take part – entries close tomorrow (Monday!).  Good luck! 


ps: don’t forget the clocks went back!