Since 1997 we have taken pride in the fact that we aim to be a beacon of ethical options for our customers. We support several charities, have been offering refills for over 2 decades, dabbled in food refills back when it was still super unfashionable in the 90's and have dropped more brands than we can remember due to uncovering issues and developing doubts about their operating practices.
We have always championed local and are very happy to take the difficult decisions when faced with new information. We don't want to be associated with slave trading, with cruelty to humans or animals on any scale, with dictatorships or with climate killing industries.
In this crazy modern world we're currently living in, it is becoming increasingly difficult to see where these lines are drawn.
I'm sure many of you will have caught the article in The Times regarding Tony's Chocolonely. This is just one of so many debatable issues within the alternative food trade at the moment. Tony's have published their response to the article and it raises some really interesting points. They have based their company ethos on the awareness of slavery and child abuse in the chocolate manufacturing process and have pitted themselves against that very publicly. They believe that working from within the industry is the only way to effect lasting change and we're not so sure that they're wrong. It's sad that they have now been publicly vilified despite always having been transparent and have tried to put the industry under the spotlight since their conception.
Oatly, a lovely, Swedish based, dairy alternative, food company beloved by many, found themselves in a similar situation last year. They had to defend themselves for their relationship with Blackstone, a financial backer with a links to deforestation. Oatly published their statement here and again they have several, solidly reasoned rationale for this decision.
Another example here is Pukka. Pukka have a hugely established following in the UK, they are the herbal tea & remedy brainchild of Sebastian Pole and Tim Westwell. Sebastian is a well respected herbal practitioner as well as one of the founders of the brand we came to love, and Tim was the sales and marketing brains. This is a great article, penned by Sebastian, about the concept behind the brand and touching on their move to Unilever. This move floored us at the time, we were absolutely horrified! But, after talking to them and understanding their reasoning, we decided to continue supporting their vision and stocking their lovely range.
This debate gets turned up a notch when we begin to consider the current situations in the far east. China as a republic have a troubled history of human rights abuses, animal cruelty on a commercial scale and some less than wonderful climate and land management policies.
This leaves us in an incredibly strange situation. We source as many of our products from UK and European countries as we can. We try not to support trade with China because we differ fundamentally with how they do business. This leaves us with two problems.
Problem one; irrespective of creed, colour or location of the farmer, organic is organic. The people producing these crops are held to stringent standards of production, often living and working in harsher conditions than the western world. Is it right to remove support for them because of their race, nationality and/or the location in which they are based? Surely we want to support, protect and uplift these farms as they are working for the same ideals that we are? Therefore is it OK to support trade with the country to support these individuals?
Problem two; our suppliers, in some instances, source either their whole product, elements or ingredients for their products or packaging from China. So even where we aren't directly buying from Chinese companies, we are indirectly supporting the continuation of their trade. If we decided to remove every product from our shelves that had any relationship to China in the process of its manufacture and distribution, we would very soon be the proud operators of an increasingly empty shop!
How do you support elements without supporting the whole? Which 'deals with the devil' are worth making in the quest for educating and dragging your errant partners into the enlightened eco mindset? Is it better to cut all ties with those whose standards are less than an ideal match for what you would prefer or is it better to work from the inside of a 'bad' industry to lead by example and effect change from inside out? This is without even scratching the surface of airmiles and sustainability. A whole other, massive kettle of proverbial fish!
There are so many shades of grey involved here!
We have so many questions ourselves; how sustainable is bamboo in the long term? How sustainable and ethical is the mass production of coconut based products? Of sustainable palm oil (a very interesting subject in its own right and not one we can go into here!)? Of Himalayan pink salt? Where are the peanuts in your everyday peanut butter coming from?! These are things we are actively looking at and considering right now!
We often wonder how we will be able to stay in business and feel like we're getting it as right as we can!
In the end, everyone needs to be comfortable with their own choices and show their support by using their consumer influence (spending their money) with the brands they believe align best with their conscience.
We will always be happy to be questioned, to do the research and will ultimately support brands we feel are working towards the right things.