Advanced search

From pushchairs to vacuum cleaners, we've tested hundreds of products in real homes with real families. Head over to Mumsnet Reviews to find out which ones came out on top.

Which, if any, of the larger supermarkets are ethical?

(24 Posts)
SupermarketBlues Wed 18-May-05 09:56:48

I've changed my name for this - sorry , but I don't feel able to post about stuff like this under my usual name, because people have a go at me, and being a sensitive soul I can't hack it.

I usually shop at Tesco and I want to stop. I'm getting all ethical in my old age and feel that supermarkets like Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda are here to screw as much money out of me as possible in return for the lowest standard of produce they can get away with, with all the implications that has down the work and food chain.

I do go to individual fruit shops, baker, butchers etc, but do find it tricky with 2 toddlers.

So, if I'm going to use a supermarket, I'd at least like to feel less guilty when I shop in there.

Are there any larger co-op supermarkets anymore (the one I know of closed and the site taken over by.........Tesco).

I stopped shopping at Waitrose because it was expensive, but now I've changed what we eat a lot, I might be able to use them - but I've no idea if they are any more ethical than the others.

Tinker Wed 18-May-05 09:59:25

Was going to say Co-op but...

I doubt many are ethical so may need to widen criteria? Who is most philanthropic for instance? Or buy as much Fair Trade stuff as possible?

Would be interested myself though.

oliveoil Wed 18-May-05 10:01:36

I don't think any of them are ethical as they all try to sell food as cheaply as poss, therefore screwing the farmers for perfectly formed carrots etc.

I go to Tesco and Asda and the local farmers' market but that only appears once a month .

Don't think you can avoid supermarkets myself.

NotQuiteCockney Wed 18-May-05 10:03:26

I think Waitrose does better than the rest, from what I know.

Gobbledigook Wed 18-May-05 10:04:48

Not sure about food but I know that Tesco is brilliant on ethical compliance in terms of their clothing (was told by a Mum I know who checks major chains for ethical compliance - in fact she may have meant food as well but we were talking specifically about kids clothes at the time).


Marina Wed 18-May-05 10:10:35

Waitrose are generally considered more ethical than the Big Four - some specific examples

- they take less of a cut from premium-priced Fair Trade goods than Tesco or Sainsbury's (ie, pass on more of the profits to the producers)

- they don't beat their producers into the ground on pricing - in fact, some of the farms they use, such as Leckford, are OWNED by the John Lewis Partnership and therefore this conflict doesn't arise

- a lot of their non-organic produce is farmed under LEAF guidelines (Linking Environment and Farmers) which means an affordable middle line for farmers who can't convert fully to organic methods. They do stuff like not mowing to the field edge to encourage natural predators, using and maintaining hedges etc

- all Waitrose pork is British and produced to the EC Directive standards

- all Waitrose eggs are free-range

- they don't put sweeties at the checkouts

I respect your changing your name, but IMO you have nothing to be ashamed of. If everyone who could conceivably afford it took the time and energy to shop ethically (and I have two little ones myself, I do know it's not easy) then it would send such a big wake-up call to the cutthroat free marketeers at Tesco etc.
This country is almost unique in Europe in placing price over quality in the food retail market.

GhostofNatt Wed 18-May-05 10:17:01

Slightly off-topic, Marina, but do you know if organic pork is necessarily free range? Am vegetarian but cook meat for the boys but only if it is free range which can struggle to find...

Marina Wed 18-May-05 10:49:53

If the organic pork is British Natt, then the pigs have not been tethered, put in farrowing stalls, and have had access to fresh air and MUD etc. If it is Danish, then there is a real possibility it has been reared intensively but given organic feed. Makes me rather - the UK is the only one implementing the very stringent guidelines for humane pig farming and our organic and non-organic pork is being priced out of the market because of it.
If I can't get British organic pork TBH I buy non-organic British in preference to organic from anywhere else. Waitrose's non-organic pork is British and tastes terrific, presumably because it has a good quality lifestyle and diet!

GhostofNatt Wed 18-May-05 10:52:55

Thanks Marina, you know so much! Once saw a pig farm and vowed never to buy non-free-range pork especially after read about that study where they taught pigs to "talk" using some sort of maunaul system and one pig was able to say "my baby died and I am sad"

tamula Wed 18-May-05 10:57:11

what exactly do you mean by ethical? organic, GB made produce, fair trade type stuff, cheaper prices, what the supermarket does with its finances?

Most supermarkets offer a range covering all of the above and co-op is supposed to only invest in peace loving do good for the world type stuff!!!

Buying from individual shops / markets may be cheaper but not sure how its more ethical?!

milge Wed 18-May-05 11:02:50

I would say Co-Op and Waitrose are the most responsible of the big supermarkets - at least you get the option of fairtrade, local, traceable. How about buying tins/washing powder etc from Asda/Aldi, and buying fresh food from waitrose? should even out the price.

SupermarketBlues Wed 18-May-05 11:02:51

Thanks for the info about Waitrose Marina. I'm going to start using their delivery service again, just once a month for really heavy items and then carry on using my regular butcher, baker and fruit/veg shop.

The last straw for me was reading a book by Felicity Lawrence - Not on the Label. It made me really angry.

Hope you don't mind me saying so, but you seem v knowledgable about all this stuff - how have you gleaned this info !

mrsflowerpot Wed 18-May-05 11:07:48

I think all Waitrose stores stock a certain amount of locally produced items, too - certainly our nearest one does.

I try to buy in our local shops as much as possible, because it supports them for a start, and because they do source locally to a much greater extent, so you can actually know where the food has come from and that it hasn't travelled. Our butcher has a much much better range of free range meat than the local supermarket, for instance. Obviously the greengrocer does have pineapples that have been flown in from wherever, but in my (tiny) mind, I'd rather buy it from him than Tesco...

elliott Wed 18-May-05 11:19:08

goodness me, what has mn come to that you feel the need to change your name for such an innocuous topic?
I have to say I have wondered about this one too, but not come to any conclusion. We don't have waitrose here, nor a co-op that is convenient, but agree that from what I've read these are likely to be the best of a bad bunch.
My choices locally are Morrisons or Sainsbury's - suspect there's not a lot in it really.

csa Wed 18-May-05 12:39:46

supermarketblues, co-op is top of the list, followed by waitrose. there are 2 books (should be available from the library) which are good reads and quite eye-openers : The Rough Guide to Ethical Shopping and the other one is called Good Shopping Guide. they have sections on different stuff like supermarkets, banks, clothings, etc. and even specific brands.
have you considered a veg box scheme? find it quite useful if you have one locally cos not only are you buying locally (depending on the veg box scheme i guess), it is also delivered to you which is rather helpful with 2 toddlers. hth

Marina Wed 18-May-05 12:55:57

A good memory for what I read on labels and in the press - would not consider myself an expert
Am member of Compassion in World Farming though. Feel as an omnivore I can have a real say in treating animals humanely in the farm environment then. Am also keen pig-fancier and rare breeds admirer...and do feel pigs, as highly intelligent and sensitive animals (not to mention delicious) deserve and need a really good existence, because they can be intensively and cruelly reared successfully
Also believe strongly in buying locally where possible - Waitrose are good on that, our local one sources lots of Kentish produce - and when it's not possible, trying to source overseas produce from fair trade producers.
csa's suggestions of further reading and veg boxes also well worth exploring.
Rose Prince does a brilliant column in Saturday's Telegraph, The Savvy Shopper. Each week she looks at a basic foodstuff, discusses whether it is worth buying organic, which producers manufacture responsibly and how to buy locally in the UK. Highly recommended.

OldieMum Wed 18-May-05 13:21:58

Waitrose has another big point in its favour - it's owned by its workforce, as detailed here
I don't know the details, but I assume this translates into better pay and conditions.

Tinker Wed 18-May-05 13:24:33

Oh, that's right, the're all partners aren't they? (It is part of JL isn't it? Don't have them oop north). I know JL gives all employees a 6 month paid sabbatical after 25 years of service

gingerbear Wed 18-May-05 13:33:22

JL and waitrose in Sheffield Tinker, that's oop north.
I thought Tesco were notorious for buying cheap clothing from Asian sweatshops?

Tinker Wed 18-May-05 13:35:23

Actually, they're in the posh parts of Cheshire as well. It's just that I'm not

SupermarketBlues Wed 18-May-05 17:39:02

Lots of useful info here - thanks everyone .

FIMAC1 Wed 18-May-05 18:55:53


Do loads of Fair Trade, also run a dividend scheme:

Community Dividend Scheme

Across the country, thousands of clubs, community groups and self-help organisations of all kinds are benefiting from the Co-operative Community Dividend Scheme. Over four and a half million pounds have already been raised for all kinds of community projects by committed Co-op Dividend Card holders who want to help change the lives of others in their local area.

Every Co-op Dividend card holder has the option to donate the 'odd pence' from their twice-yearly Dividend payments into the scheme. Our democratically elected area committees are responsible for awarding grants of between £100 to £5,000, serviced by a dedicated team of regional secretaries. Each year over 800 local community groups benefit from awards averaging £750 to £1,000.

The awards are given to voluntary, self-help, co-operative or not for profit projects targeting disadvantaged groups or areas. Co-operative Community Dividend has supported a wide range of initiatives including healthy eating projects, environmental groups, local exchange trading systems, drop-in projects, young people's groups, food co-operatives and credit unions.

FIMAC1 Wed 18-May-05 19:06:25

Also, from CO-OP website:

Here are just a few of the achievements we're most proud of.

We are a leader for fair trade - we sell more fairly traded products, in more stores, than any other retailer. We've also switched our own-brand coffee and chocolate to fair trade.

The Co-operative Bank was the first in the industry to launch an ethical policy based on our customers' concerns, explaining who we will and will not do business with.

Travelcare's commitment to be 'open, honest and impartial' sets it apart as a truly independent travel operator.

Nearly 20 years ago we became the first supermarket to ban animal testing on own-brand toiletries. We pioneered the introduction of Braille on packaging, and in 2002 we launched Britain's first fully degradable plastic carrier bag.

We contribute about 5% of pre-tax profit to the community, putting us ahead of all companies in the FTSE 100 Giving List published by The Guardian in November 2003.

We have a loyalty scheme to reward customers in our food stores by returning to them 3% of everything they spend on Co-op brand goods and 1% on other items.

With our Community Dividend scheme, customers donate the 'odd pence' from their twice-yearly loyalty scheme payments to community causes. The scheme has raised almost £5 million since it was launched seven years ago.

Our Partner Card enables customers to support their favourite local charity or community group and our Community Food Discount Card offers 10% off for community groups such as community cafés and food co-ops.

We have relaunched our responsible retailing stance after asking 30,000 customers and members what they were most concerned about. They told us and we've set ourselves new standards and new goals relating to everything from honest labelling to animal welfare.

CIS launched the insurance industry's first social accountability report and is giving its policyholders the chance to shape its policy on socially responsible investments.

We are a major contributor to Co-operative Action which supports co-operatives in communities throughout the UK, helping new ones to get started and others to achieve even more.

We know there will be many more achievements to be proud of. We're in business for the right reasons and we mean business.

Our identity

We don't exist to make a profit for shareholders. Like all co-operatives, our number one priority is to provide the best possible service to our members. This means:

making our businesses the best they can be
reinvesting in the communities where our members live.

We aim to offer our members the opportunity to:

shop without worrying about how their money will be used
vote in our elections - or stand for election
attend a wide variety of events
shape the decisions we make.

That has always been the case.

The Co-operative Group has a great heritage dating back to the very earliest days of the co-operative sector.

Detta Wed 18-May-05 22:31:35

Another good read on the subject is "Shopped - The Shocking Power of British Supermarkets" by Joanna Blythman. I haven't used any supermarket except our local Co-Op since reading "Not on the Label". In fact, I was so disturbed by all the stuff that goes on behind the scenes, that I've ended up starting a box scheme in my local area. Also, shop at butcher's/farmer's markets etc. Support our village shop and Post Office and avoid Tesco/Asda/All the Others. It's time to make a stand!!

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, watch threads, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now »

Already registered? Log in with: