Adventures in Ethical Consumerism

Monday, January 31, 2005

Ten Worst Corporations of 2004

The Multinational Monitor has published its annual Ten Worst Corporations report.

Each year, they challenge themselves to avoid nominating any of the corporations that were in the top ten the previous year. Presumably this is to avoid a repetitive, 'usual suspects' scenario with the same bad guys coming out on top every time.

So, here are the top Ten Worst Corporations of 2004:

Abbot Laboratories
American International Group Inc. (insurance)
Dow Chemical
Hardee's (fast food)
McWane (manufacturer)
Riggs Bank

You can read the full article here, or a more easily digestible summary here.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Follow the money

This story from the What Doctors Don't Tell You e-News Broadcast (20 Jan '05) is a good example of what bothers me about the vast array of pharmaceutical drugs we are constantly encouraged to consume:

CERVICAL CANCER: A vaccine that Glaxo thinks is great

Cervical cancer is invariably caused by the HPV (human papillomavirus) infection. Globally around 470,000 new cases are reported every year, and the disease annually kills around 230,000 women, many of whom are from developing countries.

And so when a drug company says it has discovered an effective vaccine against the virus, people should sit up and take notice.

That's exactly what happened when researchers from Dartmouth Medical School in New Hampshire tested a new vaccine, code-named HPV-16 and HPV-18, on 1,113 women against a placebo. It was effective against infection in nearly 92 per cent of cases, and was 100% effective against persistent infection.

As a result the paper was 'fast-tracked' by The Lancet, and its findings - "the vaccine could contribute substantially to reducing worldwide rates of cervical cancer" - were the only words on that week's cover.

So what's the problem? Well, it's probably nothing, but... the drug has been developed by GlaxoSmithKline, most of the researchers receive some funding or support from GlaxoSmithKline, the trial was paid for by GlaxoSmithKline, and technical analyses of the data was prepared by employees of GlaxoSmithKline.

We're not suggesting for a moment that there's been any wrong-doing or that there's been even the slightest partiality - it would have been nice if just someone not associated with GlaxoSmithKline had a look in, that's all.

(Source: The Lancet, 2004; 364: 1757-65).

This is a small example of a very large and significant trend. The Lancet is a medical publication with a reputation that is second to none. And it seems too many people will believe anything that is deduced by any "scientific study". How often do they consider how the study was funded or any other factors that may influence its outcome?

Friday, January 28, 2005

A letter from John Lewis

I recieved a letter today from John Lewis plc:

Thank you for taking the time to complete one of our comment cards.

It is through feedback from customers that we are able to assess our performance. I have shared your comments regarding the use of Fairtrade coffee in the Place to Eat with our Catering manager so that she can investigate the matter.


Thursday, January 27, 2005

CASPIAN announces worldwide Tesco boycott

From CASPIAN press release:

CASPIAN (Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering) has launched a worldwide boycott of Tesco in response to the retailer's escalating use of RFID on consumer products. CASPIAN Founder and Director Katherine Albrecht made the announcement to millions of viewers watching BBC Newsnight, the popular UK news program, on Tuesday.

Tesco is the world's third largest retailer, with over 2,300 stores across Europe and Asia.

RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification, a controversial technology that hooks miniature antennas up to tiny computer chips smaller than a grain of sand to track items at a distance. The technology raises privacy concerns because RFID tagged items can be monitored invisibly right through items consumers normally consider private, like clothing, purses, backpacks and wallets.

Albrecht outlined CASPIAN member objections to Tesco's expansion of its item-level RFID tagging trials, saying they "would involve potentially hundreds of thousands more shoppers... it essentially means that more people will be taking home items containing [RFID] spychips." She concluded, "that's simply unacceptable."

Newsnight correspondent Paul Mason said Tesco was taking the announcement of the boycott "seriously," and read a prepared statement from the retailer that was intended to assure consumers that the store did not have plans to track products after purchase.

Mason concluded that "all the big names in this [RFID] industry will be watching this battle very intently."

Basically, there are two kinds of RFID tags: active and passive.

Active ones do not excite my love of good technology. They are currently much bigger in size than the passive variety, but more importantly, active RFID tags are constantly transmitting their radio signals while drawing power from a little battery.

The passive tags do not require batteries as they are not continuously broadcasting a signal. These tags are activated by proximity to a scanner, more like scanning a barcode. The range within which a scanner communicates with a tag can be anything up to a few metres - possibly more. For me, their relative inactivity makes passive RFID tags less of a potential health risk for humans.

The current debate, however, is focused purely on privacy issues.

It's clear that widespread use of these tags, whether active or passive, could result in major loss of privacy for ordinary people. Even if Tesco or Gillette - or whoever is administering the tags - has a water-tight privacy policy, they would still have a responsibility to ensure that RFID is not exploited by criminals in the way that, for example, ATMs have been.

The Spychips: RFID Privacy Website has plenty more information. They have been calling for a boycott of Gillette since the company started putting RFID tags into some of their products and taking photos of people who pick them up! There is a website dedicated to the Gillette boycott here.

Personally, I've been boycotting Gillette for years; originally because of their animal testing policy (they have tried to clean up their act on that one), but more recently just because their products are full of seriously nasty ingredients. (See this from the Greenpeace Chemical Home website or the February edition of the Ecologist for more details).

Here is Tesco's take on the subject. Their focus is purely on how much of a benefit RFID is in terms of stock control. This is, of course, presented as a benefit to the consumer and not just the retail chain itself.

This article from C-Net news gives a pretty good deconstruction of the issues surrounding RFID tagging in general, including some smart recommendations for helping to safeguard people's rights.

Visit the Boycott Tesco website.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Broken down

My wonderful Apple Mac that is usually so reliable has finally broken down. It took a major crash when I was updating the software and now needs professional care.

I'm using an internet cafe now, where it's 50p for fifteen minutes of surf. It's getting quite expensive already and I've just been catching up on some email.

I don't feel any in-depth blogging coming on in this environment. I'm having to use a Windows PC and Internet Explorer. I like my desk.

Thinking of interent cafes, though, I was just having a look at the Yahoo! Mail Internet Cafe Awards. Check out the Namche Internet Cafe at Everest base camp, and Cafe Coquet in Kyoto, Japan where internet is free and you can have an iBook delivered to your table.

Highly recommended in the Best UK category is the (misspelled) Forrest Cafe, Edinburgh, which also has free internet access. I can recommend the Forest personally, though as a committee member I should probably declare an interest.

The Bongo Cafe is another great place offering free web access in Edinburgh.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Healthy floors

I've been thinking about replacing the nasty, old carpet in my living room. It's ugly, it's a haven for dust-mites (which I'm allergic to), and I suspect it may be giving off various noxious fumes as well.

Has anyone out there tried cork flooring? It seems this is an option that can be both healthy and ethical. According to Ethical Consumer magazine, "As a flooring, cork can be an excellent choice... it retains its elasticity and reduces sound and is comfortable to walk on... it doesn't absorb dust and so is less likely to cause allergies." They recommend buying non-PVC coated cork flooring and sealing it yourself with low VOC (volatile organic compound) varnish.

Ethical Consumer also states: "[Cork] is a good environmental choice because, not only is it natural and requiring little energy to produce, no trees are actually cut down to harvest it. Instead, the cork is stripped off the trees which are then left for nine years, allowing the cork to grow back completely... Cork forests in Spain Portugal and Tunisia are home to a variety of endangered wildlife including the imperial eagle and barbery deer. Unfortunately, they're also under threat because the demand for cork stoppers for wine has declined as the popularity for plastic corks has increased."

If you have any tips to share, please email me or post a comment below.

To find out more about floors, check out the Healthy Flooring Network.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Make Poverty History

The "MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY.ORG" banner you should be able to see at the top left of this page is there for a reason. Clicking on it will take you to the Make Poverty History website, where they make it nice and easy for you to send an email to Tony Blair, urging him to do something about the fact that 30,000 people are dying every day as a result of needless poverty.

The site also tells you how you can get your hands on a groovy, white band to show that you support the cause.

UPDATE: Click here to read an excellent post from Mike Treder on the Responsible Nanotechnology blog about the role that both media and technology could potentially play in the prevention of poverty.

Mike quotes from this insightful article by Michael Lerner:

'Imagine if every single day there were headlines in every newspaper in the world and every television show saying: "29,000 children died yesterday from preventable diseases and malnutrition" and then the rest of the stories alternated between detailed personal accounts of families where this devastation was taking place, and sidebar features detailing what was happening in advanced industrial countries, like this: "all this suffering was happening while the wealthiest people in the world enjoyed excesses of food, worried about how to lose weight because they eat too much, spent money trying to convince farmers not to grow too much food for fear that doing so would drive down prices, and were cutting the taxes of their wealthiest rather than seeking to redistribute their excess millions of dollars of personal income."'

Powerful stuff!

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Sorry and thank-you

Someone kindly pointed out to me yesterday that this page was not permitting those who aren't registered Blogger users to post comments.

I'm sorry for restricting freedom of speech in this way. The problem has now been sorted.

Thank-you, Amy, for bringing it to my attention.

Organics in America

Some really good news stories this week from the Organic Consumers Association in the US:

'This week the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released its long awaited report on perchlorates, a byproduct of rocket fuel that has contaminated water, vegetables, and dairy product across the United States. Perchlorates, recklessly discharged into streams and rivers near military bases and weapons manufacturing facilities, have contaminated drinking water in 35 states, and have been detected in measurable amounts in 93% of lettuce and milk samples as well, including organic products. The government funded NAS study has found that perchlorates are roughly ten times more toxic to humans than the Department of Defense has been claiming. Perchlorates can inhibit thyroid function, cause birth defects, and lower IQs.'

Mmm, I don’t like the sound of those perchlorates! It seems this has been the subject of a cover-up from day one. And just because this study is funded by the government, it doesn’t guarantee that anything is actually going to be done about it. (read more)

'According to National Geographic, there have been a significant number of reports documenting animals who seemed to sense the recent Asian tsunami before it hit. For example, Sri Lanka's Yala National Park suffered many human casualties, but park managers said the wildlife suffered almost no casualties. "The elephants, wild boar, deer, monkeys and others had moved inland to avoid the killer waves." In Thailand, seemingly insane elephants broke their chains and fled inland before the waves hit. Authorities in India reported that "the indigenous, stone-age tribes of the Andaman and Nicobar islands escaped the effects of the tsunami because they heeded warning signals from birds and animals." A number of scientists have pointed out that this remarkable behavior should alert us to pay closer attention to a wide range of warnings from the animal kingdom, not only in regards to natural disasters, but also in relation to danger signs of the impact on animal and human health of environmental pollution, such as the recent outbreak of frog mutations, species extinctions, and drops in mammalian fertility.' (full story)


'Activists in California's Sonoma County, have successfully placed an initiative on the ballot for a 10 year moratorium on genetically engineered (GE) crops. After 500 grassroots volunteers collected a record 45,387 petition signatures, proponents of the ballot initiative are optimistic the vote will turn out in their favor. The proposal is considered slightly more moderate than bans that passed in Mendocino, Trinity, and Marin counties last year, since it calls for a 10 year moratorium on commercial cultivation of GE crops, rather than a permanent ban.' (more)


'Monsanto, the leading global producer of genetically engineered seeds and crops, has been found guilty of bribing government officials in Indonesia. The Justice Department has fined Monsanto $1.5 million for bribing the Indonesian Ministry of Environment to allow the company to ignore required environmental impact studies before proceeding to plant genetically modified crops. Meanwhile, in the U.S., bribery seems hardly necessary for the Gene Giant, given that the Bush administration and regulatory agencies are stacked with former Monsanto employees and pro-biotech bureaucrats. Monsanto strengthened its grip on U.S. policymaking last week when one of its former lobbyists, Martha Scott, was appointed as Staff Director of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Other Monsanto boosters in the Washington power elite include former Secretary of Agriculture Anne Veneman (formerly head of the Monsanto subsidiary Calgene), Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (formerly CEO of a Monsanto pharmaceutical subsidiary, Searle) and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (formerly a Monsanto lawyer).'

Monsanto in bribery scandal? Surely not! (read more)


'“The Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute has filed a formal complaint with the USDA National Organic Program against an "organic" dairy farm in Colorado. The industrial sized feedlot, Aurora Dairy, claims its milk is organic, despite the fact the facility houses 5,600 dairy cows in a factory farm setting with no real access to pasture (which is required by the National Organic Standards).' (full story)

Friday, January 14, 2005

The Chemical Home

Further to my previous post about harmful chemicals in the home, I'd like to recommend The Chemical Home - an excellent, well researched website that's new from Greenpeace. This site tells you all about the toxic chemicals that are inside us, how they get there, and it names many of the companies responsible for producing and selling them in the first place.

Did you know, for example, that your pyjamas could be depositing organotins in your blood? ("Organotins are very poisonous even in tiny doses. Some organotins attack the immune system, others can cause birth defects.") Or that your sofa may contain endocrine disruptors, "capable of causing birth defects, reproductive abnormalities or developmental problems in... children by interfering with the body's natural chemicals that control growth and development"?

It's not easy to get this kind of information. Big companies are notorious for trying to cover up the fact that they have been poisoning their customers for years, and many of them continue to do so. Greenpeace has done a fantastic job, not only in gathing the facts, but also in making them available in a simple and straightforward way for people to understand.

Even if you've already banished chemical cleaners from your home, there is still so much more to know. The Chemical Home is a must-read.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Recycle your Christmas cards

Throughout January you can recycle your Christmas cards at Tesco and WH Smith.

Personally, I liked this xmas message from Joi Ito:

"I'm not sending any Christmas or New Years cards this year because I don't want to kill any more trees (and I'm lazy). I'm not sending email greetings because mass mailings are becoming indistinguishable from spam... For the more personal touch, I'm relying on my birthday reminder to remind me to say hi to my friends in a way that distributes the work across the year."

I'm currently doing neither, preferring to greet people face to face. But I think it's an excellent idea to use birthdays (if you can remember them) as a more personal way of catching up with your more remote friends anually. Keep xmas special for the family and/or local community.

We should not assume that cards need to be a part of the equation. We know who really benefits from all this waste, and it's not you or me, nor the Earth which supports us. Of course it's slightly different if you buy your cards from a charity, but there are other ways to help or donate to a good cause without wasting tons of resources.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

No Sweat Fashion Show

The No Sweat Fashion Show will take place on Friday 25th February 25 at 2.30pm, with a second show at 6.30pm. The location is the London College of Fashion, Oxford Circus. Tickets are £2.50 each and the event is a fundraiser for Batay Ouvriye - organising union struggle against the sweatshops in the free trade zone of Haiti.

Tickets are available from:

No Sweat
PO Box 36707
London SW9 8YA

Cheques should be made out to No Sweat (please say what it is for) and will soon be available online.

If you want to help, there's a meeting at 1pm on Tuesday 25th January at London College of Fashion.

If you want to do something similar near you, here are some notes about how to do it.

Recycle your Brita water filters

I've just found out that Brita's water filtration cartidges are recyclable. If you have a water filter jug at home, there is a good chance you are using Brita cartridges and replacing them roughly once a month.

If you want yours recycled, send them free to:

TW16 5BR

Water filters are a more environmentally-friendly alternative to drinking bottled water as the pollution caused by transportation and bottling is significantly reduced. If you're drinking straight, unfiltered tap water: good luck to you!

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Germany leads fight against GM contamination

From the Institute of Science in Society:

"German Agriculture Minister Renate Kunäst hailed as a major victory a new highly restrictive genetically modified (GM) crops law passed by the German Parliament on 26 November 2004. The new law requires GM crop growers to publicly register the exact location of fields, and holds those planting GM crops liable for economic damages to neighbouring non-GM fields even if planting instructions and other regulations were followed.


"The new law introduces the principle that GM farmers and GM operators are financially liable for economic damage caused if their crops contaminate non-GM products. It takes a proactive stance against GMOs, and protects organic farms and non-GM conventional farms against insidious dominance of GMOs. It also protects ecologically sensitive zones against transgenic contamination. It lays down rules for good professional practice such as minimum separation distances, documentation, and use of GMO fertilizers. And companies are bound by law to inform growers about compliance with the demands of good professional practice by means of an instruction leaflet; and are liable for incorrect product information."

The move has been praised by Friends of the Earth Europe, and is a bold one for Germany who risk further damage to their troubled economic prospects by making themselves an unpopular destination for big-money bio-engineering firms.

Germany also risks falling foul of the European Commission, who have recently been criticised for wanting to give in to pressure from America, Canada and Argentina over the reluctance of its member states to unquestioningly accept GM imports. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) are currently deciding whether or not to allow European countries the right to say no to GM if they want to.

Friends of the Earth International's Bite Back campaign gives you a chance to register your objection to attempts to restrict choice in the European food chain. Signing the Citizens' Objection is quick and easy. The site also gives you access to a wealth of information on GM, including ways for you to help spread the word.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Campaign for Real Beauty gets respect

I think Dove deserve some respect for their advertising strategy. The Campaign for Real Beauty is, of course, a campaign to sell more beauty products, yet I can't help admiring the way they are actively moving the emphasis of their advertising away from the standard 'model'.

Dove's ads make a big deal about the fact that they feature real people of all ages, shapes and sizes. This is in contrast to the usual 'acceptable' face of advertising, which generally relies on a standardised approach to the concept of beauty. This standard approach, besides being utterly false, is having a destructive effect on the self esteem of many of the more impressionable women that are exposed to it. Dove ought to be commended for taking the first step towards turning things around.

More from the Observer here and from the Times here.

Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty website.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Consumer idiot

The consumer idiot blog is a great laugh. This blogger works for an internet marketing company and he blogs some of the more amusing emails he receives at work. Reading it, you can see how people are getting really disturbed by the advertising that's constantly thrown at them. The blog also offers some insight into what happens when you get involved with these internet marketeers.

If you're bothered by pop-up ads (the ones that magically appear in a new window when you're surfing), here are some simple (and free) solutions for you to try.

For PC users, Mozilla is a browser similar to Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Mozilla offers increased user-friendliness compared to IE, as well as a better range of options, including a very effective pop-up blocker. Mozilla also offers more secure browsing than IE, which continues to be riddled with holes.

You can download Mozilla here.

In case you want to know what else is wrong with Microsoft, take a look at this detailed report from Corporate Watch.

Unlike Bill Gates and Microsoft, Mozilla is part of the open source movement. Some of the best software in the world has been created using the open source method, which means anybody can contribute to the project and (usually) anybody can use it free of charge.

Dan Gillmor has the latest on Bill Gates, and the truth about open source.

If you're a Mac OS X user, you're probably already using Safari, and you'll know that it's the quickest, most efficient, sexy-looking and user-friendly web browser on the planet. It also prevents all pop-ups from popping up.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

People Tree sale!

The People Tree sale has begun! People Tree are a well-established ethical retailer, and their ethical credentials are second to none:

"People Tree is a pioneer in Fair Trade and Ecology Fashion. We work in close partnership with 70 producer groups in 20 countries across Asia, Africa and Latin America, helping some of the world's most marginalised communities to improve their lives through Fair Trade. We provide product design skills and assistance, a fair price, regular orders and advance payment as needed. We also support village welfare projects and schools for our producers' children.

"People Tree's collection is made with organic cotton and handwoven fabrics to promote natural farming and production methods that are safe for the environment and safe for the consumer, as well as generating much-needed income in rural areas and keeping traditional skills alive. Fair Trade delivers benefit to where it's most needed and helps empower the producer and the consumer."

Common Dreams on Coke

An interesting article from the Common Dreams Newscenter.

Coca Cola are denying their products help to cause obesity, diabetes and osteoporosis, despite credible medical evidence to the contrary. At the same time, they are shamelessly buying their way into schools, colleges and universities in order to advertise more to young people and increase their profits as a result.

The article draws parallels between the behaviour of Coca Cola and the manner in which the tobacco industry has frequently tried to pull the wool over the eyes of consumers.

Fortunately, intelligent people are fighting back. Many major British and American unions (such as UNISON and The American Federation of Teachers) are pledging to work against Coca Cola until they put a stop to their nefarious practices.

"Parents, make the year 2005 the year that all school vending contracts for Coca-Cola as well as Pepsi cease! If you need to serve pop in the house, make it a rare and occasional treat. Water and soy/rice milk and real juice provide a sound and better alternative."

Why not write a letter to Coca Cola explaining exactly what you think of their marketing techniques? The address for Coca Cola Great Britain is:

1 Queen Caroline Street
London W6 9HQ

Green = clean: update

A reader has recommended Simple Green for keeping your home clean without resorting to dodgy chemical products which may be messing with your health.

Simple Green is biodegradable, which basically means it will not pollute the Earth when you dispose of it. Click here for a more detailed explaination of biodegradation from the excellent wikipedia. This description is especially worth reading if you want to know why you should compost your organic kitchen waste. (Skip the first paragraph if you're not a scientist!)

Monday, January 03, 2005

Don't hurt the rabbit!

On New Year's Eve I was disappointed to see a man in the street collecting money for the charity Cancer Research UK. Not my favourite charity at the best of times, on this occasion I felt sickened by the irony of how the man was dressed. He was wearing a Bugs Bunny costume.

"Is this some kind of joke?" I asked him.

It's a sad fact that Cancer Research UK fund research using animals. Many people argue that it would be crazy not to use animals in the desperate search for a cancer cure. Yet Animal Aid has managed to compile a list of around a hundred health charities that don't test on animals, including a number of cancer research charities. On the same page, they list charities that do test on animals, as well as a number that don't fit neatly into either category.

Click here
to view the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection's excellent page on cancer research and animal testing.