Consumer Power In Your Super?

super

For this post, we were inspired entirely by Otter’s guide to superannuation and ethical investment.

They very rightly say:

“If you want to use your consumer power to change the world, it’s not just how you spend your money, but also how you invest it that makes a difference.”

This is because we earn more in a year from our superannuation fund than we are likely to spend on ethical and eco-friendly products. And since our superfund has a large impact on the companies it chooses to invest in (or doesn’t), it means that we can also have a huge impact in making sure that these investment choices align with our core values.

Superfunds and investment options

Before switching to an entirely new superfund, you can check if your current superfund offers ‘responsible investment options’. The Responsible Investment Association of Australia provides a guide to ‘check, challenge and change’ your super fund [1].

It’s also important to remember that it is not that unusual or risky to invest your money ethically. ‘Responsible investment’ is now mainstream for most of the investment industry. According to Simon O’Connor of the Responsible Investment Association of Australia it makes up 18 per cent of total funds under management in Australia and is representing around $180 billion [2].

Getting Advice

Superfunds and investments can be tricky so if you need financial advice, Australian Ethical and Responsible Investment Association have complied lists of advisers.

We recommend you take a look at Otter’s full article for great tips and advice in investing more ethical.

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Packaging and Palm Oil: What are we really supporting?

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As conscious consumers, we place a great deal of trust in what packaging is telling us about the product itself as well as its manufacturing and supply chains.

But many of us don’t put much thought into the actual make-up of the packaging and where it comes from.

So we take a closer look at the issue of palm oil in packaging.

What’s the Issue?

Plantations that grow oil palm trees have contributed to the destruction of the rainforest of South East Asia and threaten the survival of animals such as the Orangutan in Borneo, the Sumatran tiger, and Asian rhinoceros [1].

According to Shop Ethical!, Palm oil is found in roughly 50 per cent of all packaged products on supermarket shelves including shampoos, baking oil, chocolate, cosmetics, chips, cookies, margarine and soaps [2].

However the greatest issue facing consumers to avoid products using palm oil is that it is often labelled simply as ‘vegetable oil’. Shop Ethical! advices that if the saturated fat content is about 50% there is a good chance that the vegetable oil will in fact be palm oil [3].

What is being done?

There are LOTS of organisations working on the issue.

The most significant work has been the establishment of the Rountable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) credit to WWF

Also check out The Dove Onslaught(er) campaign by Greenpeace in 2008 which successfully led to Unilever -the biggest single buyer of palm oil in the world – to agree to an “immediate moratorium on deforestation for palm oil plantations” [4].

See also Palm Oil Action GroupRainforest Action Network and the Orangutan Foundation International Australia.

What can I do to help?

Choose products from companies that are sourcing RSPO palm oil.

These are some great resources for understanding issues surrounding palm oil labelling and shopping here in Australia:

Check out Shop Ethical! list of campaigns relating to palm oil and see how you can get involved!!

And if you just LOVE orangutans we recommend getting involved with the Australian Orangutan Project!

Unethical mobiles? The issue of conflict minerals

mobile phoens

Thanks to Otter’s great coverage of the conflict minerals in mobile phones, we take a look at the issue of conflict minerals and what we can do to encourage mobile phone providers to source more ethical minerals.

What’s the issue?

Watch this incredible video to find out!

Minerals essential in electronic devices like mobile phones, mainly tin, tantalum, tungsten, are being mined in conditions of armed conflict and human rights abuses in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo  which has been considered the deadliest conflict since World War II. A lack of transparency of the mineral supply has meant that consumers unwittingly financing armed groups that regularly commit atrocities and mass rape [1] [2].

What is being done?

Raise Hope For Congo  has fantastic local, national and global initiative to tackle the problem. They have incredibly inspiring stories and great resources on the issue. Check it out!

Jewish World Watch similarly urges consumers to take action. You can sign the Conflict Minerals Pledge which sends your message to the 21 biggest electronic companies.

What you can I do?

Check out this this Tedtalk by Mandi Mbubi who outlines why and how we should put pressure on phone companies.

We recommend you check out Otter’s full article “Call for Change! What you’re really buying into with your phone” as it also explores the sustainability of mobile phones and better alternatives.

Sustainable and Ethical Seafood: Aren’t They The Same?

fish

We found this great article by Jamie Oliver’s fish guru Mathew Couchman on the differences between sustainable and ethical seafood.

We didn’t even know there was a difference!

We found out that these labelling terms tend to describe the fishing practices and methods used in catching the seafood. For example, a fish that is caught ethically means that it has caused little or no impact to other stocks or the environment. This is different from a fish that is caught from a stock that has been certified as sustainable.

Couchman writes:

“The stark reality is that sustainable and ethical can have absolutely no relationship whatsoever! Fishing method has no true representation as to whether the fish stock biomass is sustainable; it has a complete representation of its impact on the environment and the effect on any untargeted or undersized caught species (by catch). Line-caught fish from an over-exploited stock are ethical but certainly not sustainable, whereas beam trawled fish from a certified stock are definitely sustainable but certainly not ethical.”

He recommends that the only way to understand the environmental impact of a fishing method is to research and understand which species are caught by which method.

That is, each fish species can be allocated one of three specific target areas; Benthic (bottom dwellers), Demersal (Living near the bottom), Pelagic (Midwater).

“Without understanding this, one will never be able to make a judgment about the environmental impact of certified or non-certified sustainable species – Science doesn’t get more complex than fisheries science.” He says.

So here are some helpful sources to help you get started on choosing more sustainable and ethical seafood!

  • GoodFishBadFish’s Guide to Certifications  have put together the ultimate list of all the eco-labels and certification schemes by organisations like Greenpeace and Australia Conservation Foundation.
  • Australian Marine Conservation Society is also on this list but should be especially highlighted because of it publishes Australia’s only comprehensive national seafood species guide. They use a traffic-light system to recommend that consumers ‘SAY NO’, ‘THINK TWICE’ or support ‘BETTER CHOICE’ seafood species.

And since we’re on the topic of sustainable seafood, here is the trailer for the amazing documentary called End Of The Line

Top 5 Gift-Giving Ideas For This Christmas

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With Christmas just around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about the greatest ‘gift-giving’ holiday of the year.

It’s easy for us to get caught up in the material gifts that we’ve all come to want and need but there are a great number of organisations that help make gift-giving all about making this world a better place.

So before you spend the next few months doing frenzied laps around your local Westfields, we thought we’d give you the top 5 gift-giving organisations that make giving gifts fun!

oxfam unwrapped

1.    Oxfam Unwrapped

Perhaps one of the coolest and most inventive charity cards come from Oxfam Unwrapped. Makes buying a gift for those difficult loved ones much easier when you can buy them a goat instead. These cards make charity gift-giving funny and rewarding for everyone!

world vision

2.    World Vision’s Gift Catalogue

Mosquito nets, school lunches and another goat. Your friends and family will LOVE receiving one of these cards for Christmas.

unicef

3.     UNICEF

Immunise a child against diseases and give them the gift of health and nutrition this Christmas with this thoughtful and inspiring gift selection.

global giving

4.      Global Giving

Operating in over 70 countries in the world, if you purchase one of their biodegradable gift cards your loved one can pick their own project and track how the money has been spent through regular updates from the field.

charitygiftcards

5.       CharityGreetingCards

If you’re unsure about which charity and organisation you want to support then you can always pick from 90 local and national charities via this Australian based initiative.

We recommend you deal directly with the charities and organisation you want to support as according to this report by  CHOICE  some card companies like Hallmark and Flaming Rhino Design donate as little as 10% of their proceeds to their designated charity.

So to all our conscious consumers, why not make everyone happy this year an buy the git that keeps on giving!

When Fashion Finds Aren’t So Fabulous

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This week we took a closer look at how well the fashion industry meets the core values that make up #thenewstandard.

Environment

Shop Ethical has put together a useful summary of some of the key environmental concerns facing the textiles industry highlighting the excessive use of energy and water and its role in waste production.

However, all there are a lot of companies and organisations who are moving towards a greater transparency in their supply chains and improve the ethical standards of the industry. See Shop Ethical article’s here.

People

The issue of modern slavery has already been touched on in our Chocolate Industry: Issues of Production and Consumption post however it is an equally pressing issue in the textiles industry.

News of the Bangladesh textile factory collapse in April this year (2013) was shocking to say the least as it highlighted that in some cases the working conditions in the clothing industry really are that bad.

“It wasn’t just horror at the unnecessary deaths of over 1000 innocent people, but horror caused by a realisation that the disaster highlights the dark side of the way we think about and consume fashion.” (Sarah Compson, Ecologist 2013)

In short, the exploitation of workers through poor working conditions, low wages and long working hours is the modern equivalent of modern slavery.

Australia is not exempt from these charges as many popular fashion brands do nothing to eradicate modern slavery from their supply chains.

In Australia’s First Ever Fashion Report, it was found that only 12% of companies received an ‘A’ rating for their labour rights management systems, and disturbingly, only 5% of companies had a fully implemented policy to ensure workers received a living wage (a wage sufficient to cover a family’s basic costs of living).

The Report has been condensed into the Ethical Fashion Guide, providing consumers with easy to read information about 128 fashion brands.

The exploitation of outworkers in Australian fashion industry also remains a serious issue. Outworkers are those who work from home and in small workshops instead of factories which is a big source of the problem because it is more difficult for unions to get in touch with them and ensure that they know their rights under the Homeworkers Code of Practice. Here is a fantastic summary of the issue  by Fair Wear Australia, an organisation committed to ending sweatshops in Australia and overseas.

Also look out for Ethical Clothing Australia  which is the accreditation body that formally accredits Australian textile, clothing and footwear manufacturers (producers or makers) that show that they comply with the Homeworkers Code of Practice.

Animals

The exploitation of animals for in the fashion industry is being increasingly hard to ignore thanks to the likes of dedicated journalists and passionate animal lovers. For more information on the issue see PETA’s resources on animals in the fashion industry.

Below are some insightful and (heartbreaking) video footage and reports of animals being exploited for fashion:

Communities

If you’re finding it too hard to pick which brand to invest in then why not consider buying second-hand from a local charity or NGO that supports local communities. Second-hand charities stores like St Vincent De Pauls  (or Vinnies) and Salvation Army  have great finds!

Also you can make picking which brands to invest in much easier by using some of the apps and website on our Tech Toolkit.

How To Navigate Fair Trade Chocolate

This CNN segment shows us some very important things when it comes to buying ethical chocolate:

(1) Labelling is crucial in helping us identify which chocolates have been produced ethically so stick to the ones you know and choose those chocolates with Fair Trade, Forest Alliance and UTZ certifications!

(2) Just because a company claims to source ethical cocao doesn’t mean it is present in all of its products. Most companies do not source 100% ethical cocao with the exception of Nestle who became the first major chocolate manufacturer in Australia to source all the cocoa for its  retail confectionary business from UTZ certified farms. So double check the label and don’t just check the brand.

See our Tech Toolkit for some useful apps to help you find ethically sourced chocolate!