New Internationalist

Ethical Shopping

Issue 203

new internationalist
issue 203 - January 1990

Ethical shopping
Green shopping guides usually only assess products according to the damage they do to the environment. Thls is important -but it is not enough. We should also be looking hard at the ethIcs of the companies Involved. In that spirit here is an NI guide to the ethical practices of multinationals selling household cleaning products - as well as advice on what to look for in a washing powder.

Clean.
Claude Sauvageot. The table below compiled by New Consumer, evaluates the attitudes and practices of six companies which dominate the world market in household cleaning products. None of these companies has significant involvements in military sales, nuclear power, alcohol, tobacco or gambling. But these areas should also be considered when you are deciding whether a company is clean as well as green.

Company

Brands

Home country
of parent
company

Annual
company
turnover
1988
$ million

Percentage
of company
profits given
to charity

No. of the board of executives who are:

Use of
animals to
test
products

Involvements
in S Africa (no.
of workers in
brackets)

No. of companies
in the Third
World

Donations to
political
groups

women

members of ethnic
minority

Procter &
Gamble

Ariel, Bold 3, Bounce,
Camay, Daz, Dreft, Fairy,
Flash, Lenor, Tide,
Vortex, Mr Clean, Spic
N' Span, Comet

US

18,127

1%+

2+

2+

Yes but is
phasing
out

Licenses
manufacture
and sale of
its products
in SA

27

None in the US

Unilever

Comfort, Fresh, Jif, Lux,
Persil, Shield, Stergene,
Sun, Surf, Whisk, Omo,
Rinse, Bioluvil, Drive,
Huggy, Jif, Rinso, Softly,
Solvol, Aid, Vim

UK/
Netherlands

25,674

Unknown

0

0

Yes but is
phasing
out

At least one
subsidiary in
SA (7,973)

33

Yes but
none
direct to
political
parties

Reckitt &
Colman

Airwick, Brasso, Cherry
Blossom, Cleen-O-Pine, Dettol, Gumption,
Harpic, Meltonian, Mr
Sheen, Oven Pad,
Robin, Windolene

UK

2,091

Unknown

0

0

Yes but is
phasing
out

At least one
subsidiary in
SA (1,841)

20

Yes but
none
direct to
political
parties

Colgate -
Palmolive

Ajax, Fresh, Halo,
Palmolive, Softlan, Bio-
Ad, Spree, Dynamo, Fab 2, Fab 3, Cuddly, Spray-N-Wipe, Kindness, Ultra Brite

US

4,428

4%+

2+

1 +

Yes but is
phasing
out

At least one
subsidiary in
SA (671)

34

None in
the US

Patersons
Zochonis

1001 Range,
Imperial
Leather,
Morning Fresh, Racasan

UK

285

Unknown

0

0

Yes

None

10

Yes but
none
direct to
political
parties

SC Johnson and Son

Brillo, Slade, Goddard's, Klear, Living Wood, Pledge, Shake'N'Vac, Shout, Protector, Freedom, Johnson Wax

US

4,500

5%+

1+

1+

Yes, but is phasing out

At least one subsidiary in SA (154)

20

None in the US

 

.and green
Washing powders have a bewildering mixture of ingredients which can be harmful to the environment. Here is a checklist of the nasty elements to watch out for.

· Surfactants - make water more efficient as a cleansing agent. Those made from petrochemicals probably take longer to biodegrade than those made from natural ingredients.

· Phosphates - soften the water and make it more alkaline. They usually constitute around a quarter of the weight of most washing powders and an even higher proportion of dishwasher powders. A large amount of phosphate in rivers strips the water of oxygen and poisons fish.

· NTA or EDTA - are used instead of phosphates, but both pollute drinking water and food by combining with toxic metals already in the environment.

· Bleaches - sodium perborate and sodium percarbonate are used in washing powders to remove stains. The former results in boron contamination of rivers - while the after can only be used with a stabilizer like EDTA - which also pollutes food and water.

· Enzymes - digest stains, and are thought to give allergies to workers who handle them.

· Optical brighteners - are used to make washed clothes look whiter. They convert invisible ultraviolet light into visible blue light; they are thought to lead to allergies.

· Preservatives - are usually made from petrochemical ingredients which have to be manufactured.

· Plastic packaging - is mostly non-biodegradable and best avoided.

 

Montage by Clive Offley includes photo by Claude Sauvageot. Best buys
Getting comprehensive information on alternative washing powders available in each of our readers' countries has proved difficult. However, the following powders appear to avoid at least some of the harmful ingredients listed opposite.

Aotearoa/New Zealand: The most eco-frlendly washing powder available is a pure soap called Lux Flakes. Nutriclean and Amway products are both reportedly biodegradable. But if you want to be sure, Greenpeace and the Ministry for the Environment have produced booklets with recipes for making your own alternative cleaning liquids.

Australia: Herbon - available through some health foods shops in some states. Ecover - expected to be available by mid-1990. Products vary from state to state; details can be obtained by contacting the campaigning organizations listed in the action section, and through the Friends of the Earth household ecology guide.

Canada: Pure soaps like Ivory are phosphate free and Ivory Snow is also enzyme-free. Loblaws and Miracle Foodmart both make their own brands of 100-per-cent phosphate-free detergents. And the Canadian Green Consumer Guide offers a detailed list of recipes on how to make everything from washing powders to non-caustic drain openers, furniture polish and moth repellents.

United Kingdom: The vanguard in 'environment-friendly' washing powders is formed by Ecover and Ark, each of them produced by ethically sound 'alternative' companies of the same name. The only harmful ingredient these powders contain is bleach - but Ecover supplies this separately so that it is not used unnecessarily. Supermarket chains like Sainsbury's with Greencare are now beginning to follow their lead.

United States: Some well-known phosphate-free brands available in the US are All-Temperature Cheer, Tide Liquid, Wisk and All.

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