The focus of our database is the companies behind common brands and the social and environmental track record of these companies. This information is found in our smart phone app, pocket-print-guide and website.
The guide seeks firstly to make publicly available information pertaining to a company’s track record available in one place. Our task is largely one of making pre-existing information accessible to the average shopper.
A second function is to assist consumers in applying this information to their everyday purchasing choices. The ratings in the guide signify that one or more companies in the ownership tree has significant criticisms (or praises with no criticisms) from specific selected sources.
Please note the focus of the Shop Ethical! guide is on a company’s track record, rather than the features of the products themselves. Products with outstanding features are noted however (with a Green Star).
The ratings are not an endorsement or comment upon an individual company or brand, beyond the information gathered. We encourage people to follow the links to the reports themselves and to evaluate the information using their own judgments based on what they value.
We gather assessment information for companies related to common brands. These assessments can be grouped broadly under the areas of environment, social, animals, and business governance. All assessment is linked to sources documents.
Assessments are weighted as Praise, Lesser Praise, Lesser Criticism, Criticism or Boycott Call. These weightings generally count towards a company’s rating*. Additionally assessments can also be weighted as Minor Praise, Minor Criticism and Neutral, and listed under the Information heading. These do not count towards the company’s rating. (See icon decoder)
* Exceptions – (1) if a company has praises and no criticisms (full, lesser or boycott call), but does have minor criticisms, then ratings are downgraded from a tick to a light tick. (2) if a company has an annual revenue exceeding one billion dollars, then ratings are downgraded from a tick to a light tick. This is consistent with our approach of supporting small local businesses over large multinationals.
Weighting is at our discretion. An example of an assessment weighted as a Lesser Praise than (full) Praise is ‘signatory to the Australian Packaging Covenant’ as it is a voluntary agreement where companies set out their own action plan and goals for waste minimisation.
3. Up the tree.
A rating for the particular company is then calculated as outlined in the ‘Company Ratings’ icon decoder (image above), using tick, light tick, light cross, cross and boycott icons), assigning first Boycott Call/Criticisms, then Lesser Criticisms; then if no Criticisms, assigning Praises and Lesser Praises. (More on negative and positive screens).
The overall company tree rating is then calculated looking at all company ratings in the ownership tree. The same principles of identifying Criticisms first apply. If there are companies with a boycott or cross rating, the overall rating is assigned in this way, if this is not the case, and there are praises, a tick or light tick is assigned. If there is no information, the ‘~’ is assigned.
Our comparison pages (ie. beer) list common brands with their primary related company and parent company in brackets. The primary related company listed is usually the manufacturer. We assume manufacturer and brand owner are the same unless otherwise stated*. If there are other related companies, these are listed underneath along with the type of relationship (eg. brand owner). The ‘owned’ icon and ‘rating’ icon are for the overall ownership and rating of the company tree (primary company, parent companies).
* Exception – For Supermarket Housebrands the supermarket is most often the brand owner AND the exclusive retailer of a listed product (ie. Coles). In this case that company is listed as the primary related company. The manufacturer, where available, is listed underneath.
Products under a brand that have outstanding features are highlighted with a green star. Outstanding ethical or sustainable features include certified organic, GE free, recycled content and fair trade. Details can be seen by mousing over the star.
While we’ve identified companies that are more or less preferable given their company record, the common practices within some industries may be damaging, or the product may have substantial health concerns, enough to warrant avoiding the product completely.
Examples of such practices are factory farming for eggs, chickens and pigs; child labour and exploitative work conditions for coffee, chocolate, clothing and footwear; tobacco, directly linked to lung cancer; and batteries, leaving toxic chemicals in landfill.
We seek sources that are:
- independent and impartial (separate from an organisation’s own claims),
- recognised and reputable (not someone’s blog site),
- systematic and reasonable (have methodology)
All assessments use existing, publicly accessible information. We seek to make this transparent and accessible to the everyday shopper in a way that assists in making buying choices. We have used the principles below as a guide for inclusion of assessments. We document where possible the reasons for inclusion if they fall outside those listed below.
Criteria for inclusion:
- Broadly relate to company record under the areas of environment, social, animals, and business governance.
- Fall into one of three general categories:
- external – independent assessment or critique from a third party (including news reports)
- voluntary covenant – company signs up to an external agreement
- self-disclosure – own reporting managed by third party
- Not older than five years.
Generally if assessments use sources that fall outside these criteria, the assessments are tagged as ‘information’ (rather than ‘praises’ or ‘criticisms’) and so do not add in the calculation of the company-tree rating.
(Assessment data is updated weekly. See full list – 195 sources, August 2013 ).
See key sources below.
CAMPAIGNS / REPORTS / SCORECARDS
|Australian Fashion Report||www.behindthebarcode.org.au|
|Campaign for Safe Cosmetics||www.safecosmetics.org|
|Carbon Disclosure Project Index||www.cdproject.net|
|Carbon Reduction Institute||www.noco2.com.au|
|China Labor Watch||www.chinalaborwatch.org|
|Choose Cruelty Free Preferred Products||www.choosecrueltyfree.org.au|
|Clean Clothes Campaign||www.cleanclothes.org|
|Ethical Clothing Australia||www.ethicalclothingaustralia.org.au|
|FOE Nanotechnology Project||www.nano.foe.org.au|
|Greenpeace Canned Tuna Guide||www.greenpeace.org.au/tuna|
|Greenpeace True Food Guide||www.truefood.org.au|
|HRC Corporate Equality Index||www.hrc.org|
|Humane Society Fur-Free List||www.humanesociety.org|
|Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights||www.globallabourrights.org|
|International Labor Rights Forum||www.laborrights.org|
|Newsweek Green Rankings||www.newsweek.com/green|
|PETA animal testing factsheet||www.caringconsumer.com|
|Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies||www.nanotechproject.org|
|Skin Deep Cosmetics Database||www.ewg.org/skindeep|
|WWF Palm Oil Buyer’s Scorecard||www.panda.org/palmoilscorecard|
|As You Sow||www.asyousow.org|
|Corporate Accountability International||www.stopcorporateabuse.org|
|Corporate Research Project||www.corp-research.org|
|Ethical Company Organisation||www.ethical-company-organisation.org|
|Friends of the Earth||www.foe.org|
|Rainforest Action Network||www.ran.org|
SUSTAINABILITY INDEXES / CSR
|Corporate Responsibility Index||www.corporate-responsibility.com.au|
|Dow Jones Sustainability Index||www.sustainability-indices.com|
|Australian Packaging Covenant||www.packagingcovenant.org.au|
|Bangladesh Safety Accord||www.bangladeshaccord.org|
|Ethical Trading Initiative||www.ethicaltrade.org|
|Fair Labor Association||www.fairlabor.org|
|ICTI CARE Process||www.icti-care.org|
|Sustainable Apparel Coalition||www.apparelcoalition.org|
|UN Global Compact||www.unglobalcompact.org|
COMPANY OWNERSHIP / DATA
In making this guide both concise and practical we offer a somewhat simplified version of what is a complex web of company ownership, assessments and related issues. Please view this website as a starting place in developing a greater understanding of the connections between how we act and its effect on the world around us.
- The tick or cross ratings indicate a criticism or praise in one or more issue areas in the ownership tree, but not all areas. For most product types there are usually a variety of connected issues, that individuals will weight differently according to their own priorities and concerns. For example, it would not be correct to assume a clothing company has a good track record in the area of workers rights simply because it receives a tick rating. (It may be a tick/praise for something like using exclusively organic fibre). A common misconception is that the guide indicates ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘ethical’ or ‘unethical’, companies. In reality companies are ‘more ethical’ or ‘less ethical’ in particular areas depending on what criteria are being focused on. The simplified nature of the tick and cross ratings does not adequately reflect this, and is intended as a first-step way to apply the information.
- There is little or no transparency on the conditions behind common processes in most supply chains in many industries. Although having ‘no information’ implies minimal standards are in place, we have not treated ‘no information’ as a ‘criticism’.
- You may note that some large companies tend to rate well given the sources and methodology used. This may be because some sources focus only on large companies or larger companies have more resources to put into sustainability reporting and policy. It could also be that there is limited information available on smaller companies.
It seems unfortunate that a company is seen as ‘outstanding’ because it has commitment to be free from genetically engineered ingredients, or refrains from animal testing, or has made a voluntary agreement to minimise packaging waste. All these things should be normal practice for business however the reality is that these things are often secondary to profit. Common business operation is based on reducing expenses by every possible means which for the most part involves exploitation of our planet, its people, and each of us as consumers.
Let us redefine what can be considered ‘acceptable’ and raise the bar by holding companies to account and so encouraging company responsibility.