Ratings & Assessment_old

Methodology Overview

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.

How does it work

1. Transparency

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.

 2. Weighting

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.

 4. Compare.

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.

Product Features

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.

Industry Alert

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.

Wheexplainationmarkre this symbol appears next to the product type heading we recommend seeking products with an outstanding product feature star that addresses the particular concerns.

Sources criteria

We seek sources that are:

  1. independent and impartial (separate from an organisation’s own claims),
  2. recognised and reputable (not someone’s blog site),
  3. 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:

  1. Broadly relate to company record under the areas of environment, social, animals, and business governance.
  2. 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
  3. 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.

Key Sources

(Assessment data  is updated weekly. See full list – 195 sources, August 2013 ).

See key sources below.

Animals Australia www.animalsaustralia.org.au
Australian Fashion Report www.behindthebarcode.org.au
Babymilk Action www.babymilkaction.org
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
Climate Counts www.climatecounts.org
Ethical Clothing Australia www.ethicalclothingaustralia.org.au
FREE2WORK www.free2work.org
FOE Nanotechnology Project www.nano.foe.org.au
Global Exchange www.globalexchange.org
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
KnowTheChain www.knowthechain.org
Newsweek Green Rankings www.newsweek.com/green
Open Secrets www.opensecrets.org
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 Critic www.corporatecritic.org
Corporate Research Project www.corp-research.org
Corpwatch www.corpwatch.org
Ethical Company Organisation www.ethical-company-organisation.org
Ethical Consumer www.ethicalconsumer.org
Facing Finance www.facing-finance.org
Friends of the Earth www.foe.org
Greenpeace www.greenpeace.org
Knowmore www.knowmore.org
Multinational Monitor www.multinationalmonitor.org
Oxfam www.oxfam.org
Rainforest Action Network www.ran.org
RankaBrand www.rankabrand.org
Responsible Shopper www.responsibleshopper.com
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
SA8000 www.sa-intl.org/sa8000
UN Global Compact www.unglobalcompact.org
IBISWorld www.ibisworld.com.au/car
Hoovers www.hoovers.com
Limitations to the Guide

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.

Some considerations:

  • 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.