Fairtrade Fortnight: just how ethical are we really?

February 25, 2019 6:11 am Published by 1 Comment

We’re just edging into Fairtrade Fortnight – and it’s made us start to think about, and question, our own underlying principles of ‘fairness’ and ‘ethical behaviour’ at Naturally Good Food. We think of ourselves as an ethical company, and try hard to live up to this ideal. But in a messy and complicated world, just how ethical can we really claim to be?

How ethical is Naturally Good Food - honestly?

We’re ethical – Fairtrade

We stock a number of Fairtrade products at Naturally Good Food. At the moment, these can be rather hard to track down on our website. We’ve found that suppliers occasionally change their products’ Fairtrade status rather quietly, meaning that something we’d always proudly trumpeted as being Fairtrade turns out not to be so any more – or that another product is now clearly Fairtrade, but we haven’t updated our description of it.

Here’s what we currently list in our Fairtrade section. We’re in the process of developing a shiny new website and hope to improve our accuracy in reporting at that point.

But…

We could do better in our categorization (and certainly plan to do so when our new website is up and running). We would like to seek out and stock more Fairtrade goods. We know that some companies operate Fairtrade mechanisms, but don’t sign up officially. Other companies go well beyond the basic requirements of Fairtrade – and we don’t give enough prominence to this. And, of course, we stock many products that are not Fairtrade at all.

We’re ethical – cruelty-free

We stock toiletries and household cleaners that carry ‘cruelty free’ logos: those of the Vegan Society or the Leaping Bunny. We are convinced that it’s possible to make toiletries and household products that clean, moisturize, polish and protect effectively, without having to test these on animals. We’re delighted to stock toiletries from Beaming Baby, Green People, Faith in Nature, Kingfisher (cruelty-free toothpaste), Organii, Pitrok and Lavera (cruelty-free deodorants), Natracare (vegan feminine hygiene products), Oleanat and Emma Noel.

In our household goods range, we’ve got brands including Bio D, Ecoleaf and Suma, among many others. We’ve sought out brands that sign up to cruelty-free pledges. You might want a clean bathroom, but you also want clean hands, ethically speaking.

But….

Our focus has traditionally been more towards products that are environmentally friendly and organically produced. Most, but not all of these, carry the ‘cruelty-free’ logos. We’re not a vegan company: we sell many, many vegan products, but also products that aren’t suitable for vegans at all.

We’re ethical – environmentally friendly

Environmental awareness is one of our core pillars and beliefs and we seek out products with strong environmental credentials. Brands like Ecover and If You Care are big on our shelves and with our customers. From toilet rolls to tampons, sandwich bags to firelighters, we’re determined to find products that don’t harm the environment.

We do this because we’re old tree-huggers, really. We’re based on a ‘deep-green’ site, in the deep green of the Warwickshire countryside. Surrounded by trees, a river (which helpfully floods the nearby meadows), hares, stoats, buzzards and farm animals, we can see for ourselves the importance of protecting the natural world.

We strive to be green in all our own practices. We use ground-source heating, a bio-digester for waste and solar panels for our electricity requirements – and recycle like people possessed.

But….

We’re not perfect. Our products arrive by lorries and are dispatched again by road. (We do encourage people to buy in bulk, because that cuts down, ultimately, on packaging and transportation costs.)

Things are rarely clear-cut in environmental terms. Should you buy tinned pulses, for instance, or dried? Tinned pulses will be packaged in metal cans, whereas dried pulses come in paper sacks. Tinned pulses are heavier and take more fuel to transport. But dried pulses need to be boiled up at home – in much smaller quantities than the canners use – possibly using more fuel.

We’re ethical – monkeys

Last year we published a blog about coconut oil There’s no monkey business with our coconut oil. We were horrified to discover that some producers of coconut oil – a massive seller for us and a fabulous product in general – used enslaved and trained monkeys to pick the coconuts. We quickly contacted our suppliers, who told us that they only used coconuts picked by humans. You can see all our ethical coconut oil here.

Turning to another member of the ape kingdom, we’re proud to stock Meridian nut butters, which are made without the use of palm oil. Palm oil, when produced in an unsustainable manner, destroys the habitats of orangutans and other rainforest animals. In an attempt to address the problem, Meridian not only forgo palm oil in their nut butters, but have taken to adopting homeless orangutans….

But….

People sometimes make more of a noise about animals than people. We try as hard as we can to be sure that human working conditions abroad are satisfactory. But we can’t, of course, be sure. And the question of palm oil remains vexed. We’d love to be 100% certain that all the products we stock contain nothing but certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO). We’re not – yet.

We’re ethical – in who we stock

We stock products from companies that really go the extra mile, ethically. We’ve heard the most uplifting stories from companies like Lubeca (who refuse to allow mechanization to lead to staff redundancies) and Equal Exchange (who have an agreement whereby the highest paid employee may not earn more than four times that of the lowest-paid employee). We’re always keen to find out more about the background of the companies and brands we stock, and have, in the past, stopped ordering brands where we’ve heard about dubious ethical practices.

But….

Some companies are simply better at marketing themselves than others. We’re not ‘on the ground’ on cacao plantations or in marzipan factories – we’re obliged to take people at their word. We receive almost all our products from three main suppliers: Infinity Foods, Community Foods and Queenswood Natural Foods. While all three of these operate their own ethical buying practices, they are another layer between us and the actual producers.

We’re ethical – organic

We started as an organic business and we continue to believe that organic is the best there is: for taste, for health and, vitally, for the environment. Organic farmers are obliged to work with nature, rather than seeing it as an enemy to be defeated. Soil quality is improved, rather than depleted, through organic farming, enhancing its ability to absorb carbon. Ecosystems are maintained, as pesticides are abandoned and hedgerows left intact. Waterways remain unpolluted, with no dangerous chemical ‘run-off’. Organic often costs more, but we believe the alternative might cost the earth.

But….

We also sell non-organic products. Sometimes, a certified organic product isn’t available. In other cases, we know that our customers are either not interested in – or can’t yet afford – the organic option.

We’re ethical – packaging

We’re as green as we can be in our packaging choices, recycling and reusing old packaging and sourcing biodegradable options for everything we can, including clingfilm, packing noodles and cellophane bags. In truth, we’re slightly obsessed, restlessly searching for biodegradable sellotape and worrying about the plastic backings of our sticker labels. You can read our full packaging policy here.

But….

It’s a work in progress. We’re still on the lookout for biodegradable alternatives for our little plastic pots (used for particularly sticky dried fruit), for our external heavy-duty sacks and for our strong tape. And we’re only one part of the process. Stock arrives in our building from wholesalers in a variety of forms (in boxes, paper sacks and polypropylene woven bags). The boxes and paper sacks are sometimes lined with plastic, to keep the contents fresh, dry and free from pests. We’re always happy to package ‘without plastic’ for a customer who requests that – but we sometimes ask them to bear in mind that plastic has been involved in packaging before the product reaches us.

We’re ethical – but not perfect

In short, we’re doing our best – but we’re not perfect. If there’s a particular part of our business that you feel could be improved ethically, we’re always happy to hear about it and see what we can do. And until we reach perfection, we tend to feel that honesty is the best policy.

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This post was written by Yzanne

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