From the TUC

An ethical week?

28 Nov 2008, By

I’ve spent the last couple of days in Madrid attending an ETUI ‘Recruitment Network’ meeting – and so have done little in the way of shopping etc. I flew out – and am waiting to fly back – on British Airways, which recognises a number of TUC affiliated unions including UNITE and BALPA. As usual I flew economy (which I guess is greener than club or business class), and I made my way out to the airport on the Tube (which again recognises a number of TUC affiliated unions).

On my way out yesterday this article caught my eye. With the headline ‘Ethical approach of Starbucks is hard to swallow’ it neatly brings me back to start of my little experiment in ethical living last week. According to the article,

‘…the latest concerned consumer survey, carried out for The Times by Populus, shows it [Starbucks]has also lost the most support among green and ethically aware shoppers.

Consumers were asked what they thought about the general behaviour of fast food outlets and coffee shops. Starbucks’ ethical track record was rated worse than any chains except McDonald’s, Burger King and KFC, and it was the biggest faller in the index. Its average rating fell by 7 points to 42 out of a possible 100.’

The article goes on to talk about Starbuck’s efforts to boost its ethical credentials, which among other things will mean it will become the ‘world’s largest purchaser of ethical coffee’. A good start, but Starbuck’s still won’t be recognising unions in its cafes; and such a move will do little to placate those who baulk at Starbuck’s colonising every high street.

The last week has made me think about a couple of things. The first is that I was surprised just how widespread unions are, and the potential influence we hold. Despite union density being around 28% many of the largest companies that we deal with on a day to day basis are unionised, and when it comes to making a decision about what supermarket to shop in, what transport company to use, and what products to buy you can usually find a unionised option.

The big exception to this general rule though is when it comes to large parts of the private service sector like hospitality. Finding a unionised hotel, an ethical place to eat, or a ‘better’ place to drink is difficult, and reflects the weakness of unions in some key parts of our economy.

Ultimately I think its pretty impossible to live a 100% ethical life – but that doesn’t mean the little things we do and the choices we make every day are unimportant. Being an ‘ethical consumer’ won’t change the world, but to paraphrase the advert, ‘every little helps’!