How to Shop Online Ethically Without Being Greenwashed

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how to shop online ethically

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 has 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 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 selling online.

Consider before you click

The market for ethical goods is growing on- and offline. 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 when shopping online ethically 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 suppliers’ guarantees of workers’ rights is a key indicator in the Ethical Consumer Supply Chain Management rating.

Companies such as Oxfam, Shared Earth, and Amnesty did this by only sourcing ethically certified products e.g. fair trade.

Others showed commitment to monitoring their suppliers against workers’ rights provisions. Nkuku, who sells 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 Shop 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 Instead of Shopping Online Ethically?

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.

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.

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  1. Thank you for the great advice, and while shopping online I always use the craigslist and that works for me best and yeah better than Amazon!

  2. Some interesting alternatives – near street sounds like a great tool for the ‘convenience shopper’. I don’t know when I last used Amazon but sometimes when I’m searching for things it is the only place I can find something,so that’s frustrating.

  3. I still feel that the best way to shop ‘online’ is to monitor local listings on kijiji / Craiglist / Gum Tree. If it’s an item that can be bought locally I try to do so. The problem is that with many of these retailers offering free shipping and free returns it’s seen as ‘risk free’ buying and people don’t need to even get out of their chair. I’d love to see Amazon introduce some sort of ethical packaging that perhaps costs slightly more but at least gives consumers the choice. Thanks