4 Types of Ethical Buying

1. Positive Buying

Favouring particular ethical products, such as energy saving lightbulbs

2. Negative Purchasing

Avoiding products that you disapprove of, such as battery eggs or gas-guzzling cars

3. Company-Based Purchasing

Targeting a business as a whole and avoiding all the products made by one company. For example, the Nestle boycott has targeted all its brands and subsidiaries in a bid to get the company to change the way it markets its baby milk formula across the world

4. Fully-Screened Approach

Looking both at companies and at products and evaluating which product is the most ethical overall


Calabash music (www.calabashmusic.com) is the world’s first fair trade music company. By applying the concepts of microfinancing (news.bbc.co.uk…) to the music industry, Calabash allows fans to directly finance the artists of their choice. The company operates a fair trade model in which artists receive half the money from each sale. The site offers music from artists all over the world, with individual tracks available for download at $0.99 each.


Ethical tourism has become a growing concern over recent years, with now varied possibilities to maximise the ethical aspects of your next holiday. Many airlines have now introduced carbon-offsetting programmes (www.terrapass.com). When buying your flight, a small additional fee will allow you to proportionally ‘neutralise’ the CO2 emissions that your flight generates. Other small but significant actions when on holiday include:

  • Reusing your towels
  • Contributing towards projects/schools/health centres rather than giving money to street beggars
  • Be fair when negotiating price: the €1 you save may mean nothing to you, but can feed the sellers family for the day
  • Write a letter to your travel agent or airline and ask them about their responsible tourism policy. If they have none, ask them why
  • Respect local cultures and idiosyncrasies – don’t force ‘your way’ on others
  • Buy food and gifts from small, local sellers/producers rather than large superstores
  • Avoid disturbing wildlife, such as picking plants or shells. Several ecosystems are extremely fragile and tampering can cause irreversible damage

Eco-hotels (www.independent.co.uk…) are emerging in most major travel destinations. Rural eco-lodges have existed for some time, but urban eco-hotels, (“think gardens”, eco-friendly boilers, solar power, geothermal heating and waterless urinals) are the new ethical-chic. Furthermore, a number of travel agents now have ethical tourism policies in place (Tourism Concern has an updated list here (www.tourismconcern.org.uk…)) while others, such as Bespoke (www.bespokeexperience.com) and Responsible Travel (www.responsibletravel.com) specialise in fair trade, environmentally-friendly holiday packages across the globe, ranging from top-end luxury breaks to backpacking budget adventures.

Keeping an ethical eye on things

Given the sheer volume of companies, products, and ethical issues to take into consideration, calculating whether one product is more or less ethical than another can seem overwhelming. There are, however, an increasing number of consumer watchdogs, indices and reports monitoring various companies’ ethical values.

Ethiscore (www.ethiscore.org) ranks all sorts of products, from chocolates to washing machines, on ethical considerations. Its rating system analyses a company’s environmental, human, animal and political impact, as well the specific product’s sustainability and comes up with an ‘ethical score’, ranking an innumerable amount of products according to their ethical credentials.

The Ethical Reputation Index (ethicalreputationindex.com) (ERI) measures companies’ perceived ethical profile and how this changes in response to marketing activity, media coverage and changing consumer attitudes. Although you will need to pay for their annual reports, you can access a summary of the 2006 findings here. In 2006, the ERI ranked McDonalds as number 1 on its ‘hitlist.’

Ethical Investment has also become easier over the past few years, with both Dow Jones and FTSE developing ethical indexes which track the financial performance of leading sustainability-driven companies across the globe. The Dow Jones Sustainability Index (www.sustainability-index.com) and its rival, the FTSE4Good (www.ftse.com…) index series provide would-be investors with an ethical option for their investments. The majority of small-scale investors often have no idea of where their money goes: they simply trust their investment firm or manager to invest where they see fit. But your cash could be used to finance arms manufacturers, companies using child labour, or organisations carrying out illegal – or the very least highly unethical – environmental practices (illegal logging, waste dumping, etc) amongst other things.

These two indices provide a basis for responsible, ethical investment by measuring the performance of companies that meet globally recognised corporate responsibility standards, and facilitating investment in those companies.

Ethical Corporation (www.ethicalcorp.com) is an independent media organisation which aims to encourage discussion and debate on responsible business. It publishes a print magazine ten times a year, as well as an online magazine dealing with climate change issues (www.climatechangecorp.com). It reports on governments as well as private companies, and its website includes podcasts (www.ethicalcorp.com…) and essays (https://www.ethicalcorp.com…) dealing with a variety of ethical business considerations.

Adbusters (www.adbusters.org) refers to itself as a “global network of culture jammers and creatives who are working to change the way information flows and meaning is produced within society.” Through various articles, protest activities, anti-promotion campaigns and promotion of various ethical, counter-culture products (such as the Blackspot running shoe (https://www.adbusters.org/campaigns/blackspot) Adbusters offers an alternate perspective on mainstream consumer society and its moral, social and economic implications.

The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (www.business-humanrights.org/Home) reports on claims of misconduct which are made against companies and invites them to respond to allegations made against them. Rather than vilify individual companies through continued attrition, it seeks to bring about social justice by exposing factual information regarding their labour, environmental, discrimination and trade policies.