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How to Shop Online Ethically Without Being Greenwashed

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how to shop online ethically
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Want to know how to shop online ethically?

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. 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.  With this in mind, 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.

Some Key Considerations When Shopping Online Ethically

There are some key considerations to keep in mind to be sure your 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

Ethical 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. They stated that they 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. This 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. However, many of them are now also hosting impressive online shopping sites. These 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. For example, 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, however, 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 practice in this area was animal rights charity Animal Aid. Here their 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 the 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 our ethical alternatives to Amazon.

Fashion, Life & Style, Resources

Your Ultimate Guide to Ethical Shopping

Today I wanted to share my ultimate guide to ethical shopping.

Did you catch the BBC documentary, Fashion’s Dirty Secrets?  I did, and as someone who is fairly clued up on ethical fashion, I was shocked at what I saw. Do also read my post on what’s so bad about fast fashion for more scary stats. Did you know, for example, that fabric recyclers in India have assumed that it’s too expensive for us to wash our clothes. This is the only way for them to make sense of how we discard our clothing after only wearing it a handful of times.  Shocking, right?

To help you, or anyone you know, who is interested in upping their ethical game, I’ve put together your ultimate guide to ethical shopping. This article is packed full of useful articles, guides, and directories, created over the last 8 years of blogging about ethics here on Moral Fibres.

Feel free to bookmark and come back. I’m going to keep this page updated as I add more articles.  

ultimate guide to ethical shopping

My Ethical Shopping Guides

Where to shop for secondhand clothes online – because secondhand is the best and cheapest way of shopping ethically.

40 ethical clothing brands for women – for when you want to buy new.

Men’s ethical clothing companies – because women aren’t the only drivers of fast fashion.

Women’s ethical underwear for 2018

The Moral Fibres Guide to ethical shoes

A Guide to ethical backpacks

The Moral Fibres Guide to ethical wellies

Guide to ethical maternity wear

Guide to ethical swimwear

Ethical socks and tights

Ethical nightwear

Three of the best transparent brands

My Ethical Shopping Tips

How to shop ethically on a budget 

How to escape from the clutches of fast fashion

Charity shop shopping tips

eBay shopping tips

The other handy eBay tip to keep up your sleeve

The best online resources to help you shop more ethically

A handy tip on how to rein in your spending

How to not go crazy in the sales

How to make sure you get value for money when you shop

The importance of decluttering

Eco clothing labels explained

A “buyerarchy” of needs

The Think Pieces 

Is ethical clothing expensive?

Are any high street shops ethical?

Who gets the money from your typical £10 t-shirt?

Is vintage fur ethical?

Can Generation Z put the brakes on fast fashion?

Do share this with anyone you know interested in shopping more ethically. Choosing to vote with your wallet is one way to show fast fashion companies that they can’t keep getting away with, quite literally, murder.