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1) Shoes & Trainers

Over the last twenty years, sweatshops have become synonymous with the big-name shoe brands; Nike, Adidas, Reebok and Puma. By the end of the nineties, these companies had been accused of a whole range of corporate crimes, from involvement in child labour to lacing workers’ drinks with amphetamines to keep them going through the night. However, following intensive campaigning things are changing, and ‘corporate social responsibility’ is now the phrase on everyone’s lips.

2) High Street Fashion

Clothes, like any other consumable goods, have a history. In the case of the fashion industry, that history usually involves people in poorer, less developed countries being sourced for cheap labour. This doesn’t necessarily mean exploitation; indeed, many high-street fashion chains are conscientious about human rights issues and have policies to maintain fair standards. Some, however, continue to source from countries such as Burma or allow poor conditions to exist in their workshops.

3) Cat & Dog Food

USA, Illinois, Metamora. The choice of cat and dog foods in the main supermarkets tends to be rather limited, because most of them source their products from only two manufacturers: Mars and Nestlé. Organic brands are beginning to appear alongside these big names, although they are still easiest to find in specialist shops. Animal testing is an important issue in the manufacture of pet foods, and some owners even consider vegetarianism for their animals.

4) Skincare

Even though the big cosmetics firms love to use the word ‘natural’ on their products, most skincare creams use man-made chemicals, some of which are potentially toxic. Consumer groups have expressed concern about ‘bio-accumulation’, where chemicals build up in our systems because we do not have the capacity to get rid of them. The only way to ensure the safety of what we buy is to look at the small print behind the slogan.

5) Make-up

The cosmetics industry is big business: in the UK alone we spend £5 billion a year on cosmetics and toiletries. Women, men and even children are under increasing pressure to look good, smell right, and defy the ageing process. With the use of industrially produced synthetic chemicals being linked to worrying side-effects, it seems that a healthy diet, plenty of sleep and lots of water will do more for your complexion than foundation.

6) Mobile Phones

Mobile phone ownership has soared since the mid-1990s to more than 83m in the UK – more than one handset for every individual, but we don’t yet know enough about the potential health implications of this technology. Whilst there is no firm evidence for a direct link between mobile phone use and health risks, experts tend to suggest we should remain cautious. This section will explore some of these health issues, and suggest the networks and handsets that are the most environmentally friendly.

7) Ice Cream

It’s a safe bet that the traditional recipe for ice cream didn’t include ‘E110 sunset yellow’ and residues of bovine somatotropin, but for some of the big-brand versions this may be the case. Many companies are now making an effort to reduce the number of additives in their desserts, but the only safe way to ensure an ethical, E-number free ice cream is to stick to the small producers and buy organic or dairy-free.

8) Shampoo & Conditioner

Elaborate hair care is intrinsic to the modern beauty routine, even though some claim that all it really needs is soap and water. Shampoo and conditioner manufacturers often succeed in seducing even the most ethically aware individual with their apparently ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ products, but we should not always believe what we read on the label. Choose companies whose ethical claims have been verified by the Cruelty-Free International and the Soil Association – and by the Ethical Company Organisation.

9) Soap

Most people probably wouldn’t want to wash themselves with a petrochemical-fragranced bar of animal fats, but these ingredients may be contained in even the simplest bar of soap – and they might not be easy to identify on the label. Fortunately, some smaller manufacturers make their soaps to vegetarian or vegan standard, using natural essential oils for scent, dried flowers for colour and herbs for exfoliation. Hand-made and cruelty-free, these are an ideal alternative.

10) Banks and Building Societies

Despite the credit crunch chaos that followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers, most people still choose their banks or building societies for reasons of convenience – simply because there’s a branch around the corner or because they had an account with a predecessor of one of today’s conglomerates. As customers we should keep tracks on the way our banks behave, and on the deep issues regarding modern finance and economy. In the current economic context, we truly have a role to play when it comes to choosing to use only ethical banks and building societies. By supporting an ethical, alternative bank you are ensuring your money doesn’t fund fossil fuels, human rights abuses, deeply questionable lobbying practices against progressive policies, or any number of other issues – you are ultimately making the choice to help assist in the development of and transition toward a better world.

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