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Ethical Christmas shopping

Ethical Consumer names its top picks for Christmas shopping on the high street – and says avoiding Amazon should be a 'top priority'
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Ethical Christmas shopping

As the Christmas shopping season gets into full swing, Ethical Consumer has revealed its pick of the most ethical online stores and the top five most ethical high street shops.

For shoppers who prefer to make their purchases in person, or want the option to see products in store before buying online, the high street companies listed below are five of the highest ranking and most ethical companies from Ethical Consumer’s product guides.

All five companies score well across the ‘ethiscore’ ratings system, gaining product sustainability marks for using Fairtrade and organic accreditation schemes.

‘Being an ethical consumer can be simple if you know where to look. We’ve listed our top five ethical mainstream shops that you can find on the high street.’

Co-director at Ethical Consumer

1. Lush

You can smell Lush shops a mile off and, according to Ethical Consumer, ‘their ethics are as sweet-smelling as their products’. This company refuses to test on animals and supports various campaign organisations. It tries to use only natural ingredients and most things are made in the UK so you know workers are unlikely to suffer. They are Fair Tax Mark certified and are an accredited Living Wage employer.

Katie Hill, co-founder of, says, ‘While Lush is a popular choice for Christmas gifts, we encourage readers to take a good look at what’s in the products they’re buying – especially when thinking about gifts for kids. Look out for the COSMOS Natural or Organic logos on products; they’re easy to spot and guarantee no nasties will end up on your skin, in your bodies or in our oceans.’

2. The Co-op Group

The Co-op sells everything from food to electricals. They now have food stores in most town centres and are a leader in ethics. They are also owned by an active membership (rather than shareholders) and have a strong internal democracy. They recently released a new ‘Co-operative Way’ action plan that sets out their commitment to tackling a number of issues including climate change and waste. They are a Fair Tax Mark certified organisation.

‘The Co-op’s doing some great things, but if you want to avoid palm oil this Christmas then take a look at Iceland’, says Katie Hill. ‘Iceland has also set new standards when it comes to tackling supermarket plastic.’

3. Marks and Spencer

Marks and Spencer is a cornerstone of the British high street. It is now a leader in terms of high street ethics and has been applauded from all sides for its Plan A commitments to the environment. In the recent Ethical Consumer guide to supermarkets it came second to the Co-op Group. It also came second in the supply chain ranking and score table in the Ethical Consumer clothes shops guide.

4. WH Smith

WH Smith is the only large bookseller to score a best rating in the Ethical Consumer ‘Alternatives to Amazon’ bookshops guide for both their environmental reporting and supply chain management. While the company might not shout about its ethics it is clearly taking its social and environmental responsibilities seriously.

5. John Lewis

The John Lewis Partnership company structure makes it one of the most progressive shops on the high street. The Partnership is an employee-owned business with the workers sharing in company profits and having a say in how the business is run.

The ethical market online

The Ethical Consumer Markets Report, which tracks the sales of ethical goods and services, continues to show that the market for ethical goods is growing. In the most recent (2017) report, the ethical market was valued at £81.3 billion.

A recent study from Criteo reveals that ‘virtuous circle’ shoppers are increasing, with 40% of shoppers reporting that they feel more positive about brands that publish their ethical standards.

The Criteo report found that technology is helping consumers make ethical choices about previous purchases. The option to re-sell and recycle purchases makes a third (33%) of UK shoppers feel better about spending money.

Is shopping online ethical?

The internet is helping people discover more ethical choices and, rather than making shopping a guilty pleasure, it helps reinforce our identity – particularly through the sharing lens of social media. This is a trend that’s likely to keep growing, and last week Instagram announced more features to enable users to shop via the platform.

‘This year the changing shopping habits of the nation have culminated in the closure of a number of big name stores, dubbed the ‘death of the high street’. Online shopping has often been seen as the villain of the piece, but research proves that online shopping can, in many instances, be a more environmentally sustainable choice.

‘Obviously the social aspect of keeping a healthy high street in a community is a different issue entirely; and whilst internet shopping in itself isn’t inherently a bad thing, here at Ethical Consumer we are very clear that online giants like Amazon are.’

Co-director at Ethical Consumer

Online shopping currently accounts for 16.3% of all UK retail and is growing fast. The researchers at Ethical Consumer rated 24 ethical online stores, chosen following feedback from Ethical Consumer magazine readers about which ethical stores they regularly used online.

‘Online stores offer a convenient way to shop, particularly if your local high street doesn’t have a range of independent stores stocking what you want. We’ve selected ten of the best ethical online retailers and the five best big name high street shops to help people make more ethical choices, whether they are buying in advance, or need to make a last-minute present purchase.’

Co-director at Ethical Consumer

Ethical Consumer’s top 10 online shops

The 10 online retailers listed here offer a more virtuous virtual shopping experience, rating highly in the Ethical Consumer ‘ethiscore’ system that considers ethical supply chain management, workers’ rights and animal testing policies.

1. Acala

Acala is an online store offering an extensive range of natural, organic and vegan health and beauty products from leading brands. All responsibly packaged; refills, plastic free and zero waste packaging.

2. Amberoot

Amberoot was created with the ambition to make the fashion industry more environmentally friendly, ethical and transparent, and offers a curated selection of responsibly sourced, high-quality products, which you would neither need nor want to discard after a couple of wears.

3. Amnesty

Amnesty, like many other charities, has developed its own online shop, with revenue from the shop supporting Amnesty’s work and various other good causes from around the globe. There’s everything from books and e-coffee cups to tea towels and tote bags on offer.

4. Ethical Shop

Ethical Shop offers everything from cleaning products and larder staples to children’s gifts. New Internationalist Publications Ltd, an independent not-for-profit co-operative publisher, established in 1973, runs it.

5. Oxfam

Oxfam charity shops are a regular feature on many high streets across the UK and their online shop allows you to rummage virtually through donated secondhand items, choose from their new products in a specially developed range, or buy a fun and quirky ‘charity gift’ – from a goat to a solar energy kit – that will help people around the world transform their lives for good.

6. Nkuku

Nkuku offers collections of beautifully handmade pieces. It works with artisans all over the world to create individual homewares, using sustainable materials that embrace traditional skills.

7. Shared Earth

Shared Earth is one of the UK’s leading suppliers of Fair Trade, eco-friendly, recycled/re-made and ethical products. It sells a wide range of gifts, home and fashion accessories, furnishings, jewellery and games. The products are bought from over 80 producer groups in 16 countries, with hundreds of new lines released each year.

8. Traidcraft

Recent news has confirmed Traidcraft will continue to operate in 2019, albeit with a smaller staff team and focusing more on grocery lines with fewer craft products. Its current autumn/winter catalogue offers a huge array of Fair Trade products, with beautiful decorations, homewares and gift ideas.

9. Veopolis

Veopolis is a 100% earth-friendly and vegan marketplace that has over 800 products on offer, from beard balm and soy-wax candles to a festive vegan cheese board.

10. Viva!

Viva!, the Bristol-based animal-welfare charity, has an extensive Vegan online shop; a highlight is its wine club, which offers cases of vegan wine as well as spirits and beers.

Tim Hunt, co-director at Ethical Consumer, offers a note of caution regarding some online companies: ‘Getting cheaper presents from the likes of Amazon might actually cost more than you bargained for. Whilst you might save some cash, their aggressive tax avoidance, shocking record on workers’ rights and environmental standards, means we all end up paying the price. That’s why Ethical Consumer has been supporting a boycott of the behemoth for over six years. Anyone who wants to make an ethical shopping choice this Christmas should be avoiding Amazon as a top priority.’

Click here to find specific ethical gifts to suit any taste, personality and budget

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