Ethical consumers flex their muscles

Dec 08 2003 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Boycotts by ethically-minded consumers in the UK cost major brands £2.6 billion last year, according to anew report, with more than half (53 per cent) of people saying that they avoided at least one companyís products or services on principle.

The Co-operative Bank's Ethical Purchasing Index found that during 2002, ethical consumption in the UK was worth £19.86 billion. The report estimates that almost £7 billion was spent on ethical goods and services, while £7.4 billion was invested in ethical financial services.

Around £5.6 billion was spent in line with consumers' principles through shopping locally, boycotting big brands, recycling and using public transport.

The biggest area of ethical spending was in banking, which increased by 16 percent during the year to £3.9 billion. However money invested in ethical or green funds fell by 8 percent over the year to £3.5 billion.

Consumers spent around £1.77 billion on Fairtrade and organic food and £1.47 billion on green household goods, such as environmentally friendly cleaning products and energy efficient appliances.

Sales of energy efficient household appliances now have a 41 percent market share, the report says, while 40 percent of all eggs sold in the UK are free range.

A further £187 million was spent on cosmetics not tested on animals, while £107 million went on responsible tourism.

Simon Williams, director of corporate affairs at The Co-operative Bank, said: "The full extent of ethical consumerism will always be difficult to gauge, given that it is about the motivation behind a particular purchase as much as the product or service itself.

"For instance, many people shop locally for convenience but for others the overriding consideration is to buy from local stores in order to support their community."

But viewed in context of all consumer spending, the figures do not make such encouraging reading. The total market share of ethical goods and services in the UK is still less than two percent, and although some eight out of 10 consumers say that they oppose testing cosmetics on animals, sales of cosmetics that comply with the Humane Cosmetics Standard have yet to achieve even a two percent market share.