Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Consumer Challenges

A post compiling some of the challenges BFTF has made to various companies.

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"During the past week, I have heard powerful stories from two women whose lives have been transformed by their employers. Alison, a Heathrow airport worker, described her life as one riddled with anxiety about growing debt until her employer announced that they would be raising her pay to the real cost of living. Lynne, meanwhile, was in a minimum-wage cleaning job with shifts as long as 15 hours a day. When she moved to FTSE 100 insurer Aviva, a longstanding supporter of a real living wage, she was able to reduce her hours to manageable levels and spend more time with her family."
"When employers treat their employees with dignity and respect, they also help to realise the potential of their staff, and the benefits for all are clear to see: one piece of research from the Living Wage Foundation found that worker absenteeism fell by 25% after employers gave the real living wage. Employees are not raw materials to be bought at the cheapest price. Treat others as you would wish to be treated yourselves – and it will pay dividends."


Link
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To say thank you to Paperchase for backing off on an advertising campaign in the Daily Mail, following a campaign by StopFundingHate, BFTF bought some of their lovely, FSC certified, postcards, and let Paperchase know about it.

Tweet to Paperchase

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Back in 2013, BFTF's ears pricked up on hearing a TV advert for a Birds Eye Fish product being stocked at Sainsburys - because the advert said the product was "MSC certified". So, the next time BFTF was at that store, and after checking out the packaging, BFTF bought a couple of packets.

The product is "Birds Eye Large Haddock Fillets in Harry Ramsdens Famous Batter"

So, more a novel than a product name. But anyway, they were rather delicious. BFTF is likely to buy more. As the product packaging had a lot of messages, BFTF thought it might be interesting to list them out and estimate how much of a part they played in BFTF actually buying this product

The part different packaging messages play in BFTF's
purchasing decision (click to enlarge)


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Background
Paper is made, of course, from cut down trees. But if those trees have been cut down indiscriminately, without regard for the environment, there can be severe consequences. For example, the WWF says this about the impact of the paper industry on forests:

"While some of this timber is grown in well-managed forests and plantations, too much of it is still the result of illegal logging and the destruction of old-growth and high conservation value forests....for example, the remaining natural forests in Sumatra, Borneo, New Guinea, Russian Far East are endangered because of growing demand for pulpwood, among other threats.

Forests also maintain the world’s abundant biodiversity, essential for life on Earth. The activities of the pulp and paper sector in these places threaten the habitats of several rare wildlife species such as Asian big cats (including tigers), Asian elephant, Asian rhinos, and orangutans."

An example of what unsustainable logging looks like can be seen below (link):
Cheap paper is cheap because it leaves the landscape looking like this.

The best way to ensure that the paper you buy does not have these adverse environmental effects is to use recycled paper, or to use paper made from trees that have been independently certified as being grown in a sustainable way e.g. (FSC certified). Certification schemes are not perfect however, and some schemes are better than others.

Often, when BFTF asks organisations what their policy is on the source of the paper they use, the response is along the lines of "we recycle and try to reduce paper useage, but we are have a tight budget and cannot afford to spend extra on FSC or recycled paper"

This kind of attitude is perhaps to be expected from hard nosed commercial companies, but BFTF has a hard time understanding how faith based charities, who claim to care for the environment, can respond in this way.

And yet that is exactly what often happens.

The irony is doubled when the charities are working in far off lands to combat the effects of climate change or deforestation - while contributing to those very problems by buying the cheapest paper they can.

Far from being a cost to be avoided, paying extra for sustainably sourced paper is a way of achieving their charitable aims, a way of protecting the environment, a way of protecting those people in distant lands - who are most at risk from the effects of deforestation.



Book that BFTF wanted to buy, but didn't because there was no evidence they had been printed on environmentally sustainable paper...

City County Forest: Emailed Pedals to ask whether the book was printed on sustainably sourced paper. They responded, winningly, with : "I have checked one copy of 'City County Forest' and can confirm there is no mention of the sustainability of the paper used in the book."

City County Forest

Dawn of the Undead: Contacted Dawn of the Undead at their very interesting blogand asked for info on the sustainability of the paper used for this graphic novel.They responded with : "Yes, DAWN is indeed printed on FSC paper, and we shall add the FSC logo to reprints.Russell Press have had FSC accreditation for many years, as well ISO environmental accreditation."

Dawn of the Unread

The BBC - Myth of a Public Service: Contacted Verso asking for information on the sustainability of the paper used in this book.

The BBC - Myth of a Public Service

Trump Unveiled - Exposing the Bigoted Billionaire: Contacted OR Books asking for information on the sustainability of the paper used in this book. They reassuringly responded with : "OR Books' UK printer, CPi, is both FSC and PEFC certified; details are available on its website...[and]...The edition you saw in your local bookseller, printed by our publishing partner Counterpoint, is produced on recycled 30% PCW [post consumer waste] paper stock"

Trump Unveiled - Exposing the Bigoted Billionaire

Guinness World Records 2017: Message sent via the Guinness Book of Records contact page and received this response : "We print on renewable and recyclable paper. You can find the sustainability statement on p.250 of the hardback: 'SUSTAINABILITY -The paper used for this edition is manufactured by UPM Plattling, German. The production site has forest certification and its operations have both ISO14001 environmental management system and EMAS certification to ensure sustainable production. UPM Papers are true Biofore products, produced from renewable and recycled materials.' "

You can read the UPM product statement here, it is pretty encouraging, so guess can buy this with confidence. Although possibly a bit late now. Did suggest to the publisher might want to consider "making the note a bit more prominent so that I don't miss it next time" :)

Guinness World Records 2017



2016 : Saw this "Greenchef" frying pan by "Greenpan" and wondered whether the company's Green credentials extended to ensuring their generous cardboard packaging was from a sustainable (or recycled) source. The company responded saying that "the packaging is from a recycled source", which was nice to hear.

Greenchef by Greenpan, recently at ASDA



2016: BFTF bought some fruit yogurts from ALDI a while back (they were delish btw) and started wondering about the card packaging that the yogurts came in so sent an email to his email to customer.service@aldi.co.uk asking if the card packaging was really needed and whether is was from sustainable cardstock. Received a response saying that "e can indeed confirm that the cardboard packaging is PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forestry Certification) certified, therefore we can assure you that it is from a sustainable source"

Nice Yogurts...

...but not sure about the card packaging

Aldi chose not to answer the question as to whether the car packaging is really needed at all, but leaving that aside, which is best : PEFC or FSC?

FSC, unsurprisingly, say they are. And they have Greenpeace on their side.

PEFC's view is that they are as good as FSC, although the tone of their report is a little vague.

The UK government recognises both FSC and PEFC as being acceptable certification schemes.



2016 : BFTF was thinking about buying a couple of decks of "Ace Trumps" after seeing them on the shelves of the toy section...but decided to leave them be as was not sure the card used was from a sustainable source.

A later email to Cartamundi resulted in they forwarding on a copy of their FSC certificate - so happy days"
Was a bit worried Cartamundi are cool with unsustainable deforestation



Not impressed, by the cynical, manipulative text on this pack of Cheerios:

Was a bit worried Cartamundi are cool with unsustainable deforestation

By the way, the ingredients for Cheerios are, in decreasing order:
Cereal Grains, Sugar, Wheat Starch, Partially Inverted Brown Sugar Syrup, Salt, Tripotassium Phosphate, Sunflower Oil, Colours, Antioxidant


Did you spot the cyncial way percentages are used in that ingredients list?

In contrast, the ingredients for a packet of Porridge Oats are, in decreasing order:
Rolled Oats

One of those two choices is "wholesomely nutritious", but BFTF is not sure it is the Cheerios.



BFTF recently played the board game "Risk" for the first time recently... and lost big time! A challenge to the company regarding the card they used provoked this response

"The paper and board used in the risk game is mostly FSC certified. Our primary suppliers of paper and board are FSC certified but we also engage suppliers and materials that use other types of certification like PEFC. As you have seen on our website we have set ourselves a target of 90% usage of these materials and sources for all of paperboard packaging and in-box game content, by 2015. For the Risk game in particular we have probably achieved that goal already."

Hasbro use mostly sustainable FSC card for "Risk"!



2013 : BFTF thinks fish is a delish dish - but wants to buy it without causing unsustainable depletion of the worlds fish stocks.

One thing BFTF looks for is the MSC logo as a sign that the fish product has been sustainably sourced. Their, very comprehensive, website explains the essence of what the MSC is about:
"The MSC has developed standards for sustainable fishing and seafood traceability. Both standards meet the world's toughest best practice guidelines and are helping to transform global seafood markets.

We offer fisheries around the world a way to be recognised and rewarded for good management. By working in partnership with sustainable fisheries to create a market for sustainable seafood, other fisheries are incentivised to change their practices

The MSC blue ecolabel gives everyone an easy way to make the best environmental choice when shopping or dining out.

Half of the world's seafood comes from the developing world and for millions of people fish is a vital source of nutrition. The MSC is encouraging developing world fisheries to take part in our program and enjoy the benefits that certification and ecolabelling can bring."

Frustratingly, it has been difficult to find MSC certified battered fish portions in supermarkets - so it was great to see that Sainsbury's are stocking MSC certified Cod Fish Fillets :

MSC certified Battered Cod Fillets

Oh yeah baby!



Sustainable Christmas Cards 2013
In terms of the sustainability of the card used in the own-brand Christmas card ranges being sold by the major supermarkets it is clear that some companies are doing a much better job than others:

Sainsbury's use sustainably sourced FSC certifed card. Well Done !
Sainsbury's : FSC certified card used throughout! Well Done!

M&S also from sustainable FSC certifed card. Well Done !
M&S cards made with sustainable, FSC certified, card. Well done!

Co-op also use sustainable FSC certifed card. Well Done ! 
Co-op cards made with sustainable, FSC certified card. Well done!

John Lewis also use FSC certifed card, according to the FSC. Well Done !

TescoAfter being challenged, Tesco say they use FSC stock but don't state this on the cards
Tesco do use FSC stock, it seems.

Asda DON'T seem to be using sustainably sourced card. Oh dear.
Asda : No evidence that sustainably sourced card has been used.

So it's pretty clear where to get your Christmas cards from if you want to support sustianable forestry and reduce deforestation.

Update 13th Dec: Having had no response from Asda on Twitter, decided to take it to the next level and started a Change.org petition. Would be great if you could sign!

https://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/asda-ceo-andy-clarke-use-sustainable-fsc-certified-or-recycled-stock-for-the-christmas-cards-asda-will-sell-in-the-run-up-to-christmas-2014



Those of you who are familiar with this blog will not be surprised to hear that BFTF can usually be found with a notebook of some kind. And notebooks eventually get filled up, so buying a new one is something that happens quite frequently.

BFTF used to buy ASDA notebooks made using recycled paper (see later in post) but they stopped selling them so BFTF had to look elsewhere and was delighted to find that Sainsbury's stocked notebooks made from recycled paper. Result!

Sainsbury's notebook made from recycled paper

Original Post:

In the most recent occurance, BFTF was chuffed to find a lovely little notebook at ASDA which ticked all the boxes :

* The paper is recycled.
* The covers are made from recyclable Polypropylene.
* Reasonably priced.

Sent an email to ASDA to say "well done" for stocking this product.

Notebook at ASDA - using recycled paper



MSC Sustainably sourced fish
2013: BFTF thinks fish is a delish dish - but wants to buy it without causing unsustainable depletion of the worlds fish stocks.

One thing BFTF looks for is the MSC logo as a sign that the fish product has been sustainably sourced. Their, very comprehensive, website explains the essence of what the MSC is about:
"The MSC has developed standards for sustainable fishing and seafood traceability. Both standards meet the world's toughest best practice guidelines and are helping to transform global seafood markets.

We offer fisheries around the world a way to be recognised and rewarded for good management. By working in partnership with sustainable fisheries to create a market for sustainable seafood, other fisheries are incentivised to change their practices

The MSC blue ecolabel gives everyone an easy way to make the best environmental choice when shopping or dining out.

Half of the world's seafood comes from the developing world and for millions of people fish is a vital source of nutrition. The MSC is encouraging developing world fisheries to take part in our program and enjoy the benefits that certification and ecolabelling can bring."

Frustratingly, it has been difficult to find MSC certified Tuna in supermarkets (although there have been other, rather pricey, "eco" brands such as Fish4Ever which BFTF has occasionally bought).

So it was great to see that Sainsbury's are stocking MSC certified Tuna :

MSC certified Tuna at Sainsburys

MSC - Oh yeah baby!



2013 : BFTF was gobsmacked to read an article in the Guardian that described how Danone were marketing their baby formula unethically in Indonesia (definitely worth reading the comments section of the article as it gives an interesting spread of views and links for further information).

A little more digging reveals that Save the Children are so concerned about the practices of Danone and Nestle that they have set up a petition to call for the companies to abide by the WHO code of practice on Formula Milk marketing (which BFTF urges you to read). One example given is the marketing of Nestle formula in Egypt in 2010 with the words 'Strengthening the immune defenses and reducing the incidence of diarrhea in the crucial first year of life.' whereas the truth is that babies fed on baby milk are proven to be more likely to suffer diarrhoea and short and long-term illnesses than breastfed babies.

Another organisation campaigning in this area is Baby Milk Action. BFTF used the email form there to send the following (words crafted by BFTF, btw) to the Head of Marketing at Nestle:

"What is the matter with you people at Nestle? Why are you STILL incapable of following the WHO code of conduct on Formula Milk marketing? I had recently started buying your Fairtrade chocolate products - but having heard of your continued flouting of thre WHO code of conductI will be taking my business elsewhere and will encourage others to do so as well."
Nestle have prducts across many sectors, including Cereal, Chocolate, Coffee and Dairy

Similarly, sent the following to Danone via their website

"What is the matter with you people at Danone? Why are you STILL incapable of following the WHO code of conduct on Formula Milk marketing? Until you do, I won't buy any of your (many) products and will encourage others to do the same."
Danone products include Activia, Actimel, Danio, Oykos, Shape, Evian, Volvic, Aptamil, Cow & Gate and Nutricia.

Avaaz also have a campaign in this area

Finally, to finish on a positive note, it is worth noting that progress has been made since the dark days of the 1980s. Isla Fisher reported to Save the Children that, in Brazil, breastfeeding rates have risen dramatically from 3.6% to 40% since 1986. Which goes to show that campaigning (both local and international) really does make a difference.



BFTF recently bit the bullet and bought a new bicycle with the aim of using it for excercise and, occasionally, actually as a means of transport.

After some research, the one BFTF went for was a Voodoo Marasa from Halfords. It is a great bike, and riding it is an immense joy.

Whilst reading off the serial number it case it ever get stolen, BFTF noticed that it was made in Cambodia.

Nothing wrong with that, and it fact it's great to see the developing world get their share of the global industrial pie. But that share needs to be fair. The workers need to be paid a living wage. The company needs to pay its taxes.

An article on wages in Cambodia gives the example of Heath Kimhuor, a garment worker, whose base salary of US$66 a month is nowhere near enough to support herself and her family. "If I get sick, I don't have any money for treatment," she says. Peoples Tribunal on a Living Wage ,which concluded with a call for a living wage for Cambodian garment workers of at least US$185-200/month - enough to feed a family and provide for their children's basic health and educational needs. This is not a lot when you consider that Puma, which sources apparel from the Huey Chuen factory in Cambodia, reported US$304.3 million in net profits. Puma alone could have paid Huey Chuen's 3,400 workers an additional US$100 a month last year and still made US$300 million in profits.

Another report by the Clean Clothes Campaign supports "the Cambodian trade union's goal of a USD 131/month minimum wage goal as a first step towards a proper living wage, and to produce an action plan to ensure suppliers pay their workers accordingly. At present, the minimum wage for a garment worker in Cambodia is USD 61/month.

An this article suggests that wages have not risen for several years, are well below those of China and can often be as low as 2 dollars a day. In additions, bike manufacturing is often in a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) which, according to a USAID report, offers pro-business perks such as low taxes and low wages.

So BFTF sent off a message to Halfords (via their feedback page)with two very specific questions:

i) Do the workers manufacturing / assembling Voodoo bikes get paid a LIVING wage (which I understand to be in the region of USD185/per month) and, if not, what is their typical base wage?

ii) Does the manufacturing company pay a fair level of taxes in Cambodia. Specifically, can you confirm that the manufacturing company is not evading taxes by locating itself in a tax free zone or similar.

Halfords Reponse Updates
15Jan13 : No response from Halfords so sent another email to nudge them.
11Feb13 : No response from Halfords so sent another email to nudge them.
03Mar13 : No response from Halfords so sent another email to nudge them.
04Mar13 : Received a response from the Customer Services Team saying that they could not help and that BFTF should call the switchboard who would direct the call appropriately. Called the switchboard and was put through to.... wait for it... customer services. They refused point blank to provide any information and passed BFTF back to the switchboard. The switchboard, bemused at the fact that customer services couldn't provide any customer service, eventually put BFTF through to someone in another department who was prepared to talk to BFTF and who gave their email address for BFTF to send questions to.
4th April : No response so chased up via email
5th May : No response so chased up via email.
13th May : Received an email response from the Halfords saying that the "PR Team" was looking at this issue and would a response to my questions would "hopefully take no more than a couple of days".
4th July : Received the following response from "Automotive PR Manager" :

Suppliers Code of Conduct
Halfords insists that our suppliers adhere to a strict Code of Conduct that governs standards of production and the conditions of employment for their colleagues. This includes ensuring that suppliers’ colleagues receive at least the minimum wage as defined by local legislation – though in the case of skilled workers this is often significantly more.
Halfords conducts regular independent audits of all factories to validate compliance with our Code of Conduct and works pro-actively with suppliers to ensure that they comply with the appropriate local employment laws.
Colleagues in Cambodia are also represented by trade organisations who act in their interests.

to which BFTF bounced back saying thanks, but that BFTF would continue to look for a bike that had been put together by workers paid a living wage:

Shiny new Voodoo



BFTF recently had cause to buy a carbon monoxide detector which happened to be made by a company called FireAngel, and BFTF fully expects it to be high quality product that gives years of reliable service.
FireAngel packaging

Having said that, and with a "sustainability" hat on, BFTF could not help but notice that, on the back of the packaging the following statement:
"Green Product Initiative. The planet has been considered at every juncture of this alarms development."

and that there seemed to be no indication that the card packaging was made from made using sustainably sourced cardstock (e.g. recycled or FSC certified), nor did a search of the FireAngel website find any mention of the "Green Product Initiative".
FireAngel website

So BFTF sent the following email to the company via their No cigar, as it were, on the website:
I recently bought two of your Carbon Monoxide detectors and note that FireAngel has a "Green Product Initiative". However, I am struggling to see any evidence on the card packaging that it has been made using sustainably sourced card (e.g. recycled or FSC certified)

Using sustainably sourced card is one of the easiest ways to reduce the environmental impact of packaging material - and is so easy to do that even supermarket till receipts use FSC certified paper!

I am sure that your already have this covered and hope that you can confirm that your card packaging is indeed made from sustainably sourced card (e.g. recycled or FSC certified).


Update 03Jan13: Received a prompt and rather encouraging email response from FireAngel.



A Fairtrade Coffee Story
These sustainability related posts are generally pretty much focussed on the issue at hand but, this time, BFTF would like to tell you a story (a phrase that BFTF feels obliged to say in a Max Bygraves kind of way)...

Back in 2005, BFTF was travelling down the M1 on a sunny July afternoon when he stopped at a service station for a cup of coffee to help stay alert on the rest of the drive. As is BFTF's tendency, it was a Fairtrade cup of coffee that he asked for - which the barista could provide but had to make specially.

Whilst it was brewing up, BFTF noticed that many of the people at the service station appeared to be heading for the "Live 8" concert in London - a concert that was billed as being an event to raise awareness of global poverty and achieve government level policy changes on issues such as aid, trade and justice - so BFTF asked the barista whether any of his other customers were asking for Fairtrade coffee or tea. He said that they weren't and that this was a surprise given that many of them were going to a concert that aimed to help combat global poverty and injustice.

A sad state of affairs, no?

End of story

Moving back to the current issue, BFTF was once again at a service station purchasing a cup of coffee, this time from a Self Service JJ Beanos machine - a brand that BFTF deliberately chose because their coffee is all Fairtrade - when BFTF started to wonder what the wooden stirring sticks were made of. One would hope that they were made from FSC certified wood and not just any old chopped down rainforest as illegal or indescriminate logging devastates ecosystms, plunges indigenous people into poverty and contributes to climage change.

So BFTF asked them what the source of the wood for their stirring sticks was.

A JJ Beanos cup of Fairtrade coffee -
but what kind of wood are those stirring sticks made out of?



BFTF had cause to buy some presnts for small children recently, and found himself at Tesco wondering what would fit the bill.

As a believer that you can't beat the classics, a Tesco own brand "Wooden Hammering Bench" seemed like a candidate for purchase...

Tesco "Carousel" Wooden Hammering Bench

... and seeing that it was made with FSC certifed wood was enough to make BFTF's mind up that this was a definite "buy".

Good to see that FSC logo!



Sugar
BFTF was buying ingredients for Muffins and 250g Biccies recently and could not find any FairTrade light brown sugar.

So ended up buying non-Fairtrade Demarara Sugar, which has been something of a revelation. The coarser grains mean that is does not melt fully in the bisuits, reduceces flow during baking and reduces the tendency for the biscuits to burn.

Demarara sugar is BFTF's my new best friend.

Having said that, it would still be nice to know that these confections were not being prduced at the cost of poor workers rights in the country where the sugar is farmed.

So, after reading this very interesting report on the sugar industry in Africa, BFTF sent the following emails to East End and Billingtons.

"I have recently tried your Demarara sugar instead of the Light Brown Sugar I usually purchase for baking and found the Demarara to be a fantastic product and intend to switch to Demarara forthwith.

However, I note that your products do not feature the "FairTrade" logo and am concerned that those who produced this sugar (in its country or origin) have not been as well treated as they should have been.

I'm hoping you will be kind enough to provide some feedback on the three questions below, as positive responses will go a long war towards reassuring me that I can buy your product with confidence.

1) What assurance - and what evidence - can you give that you pay your fair share of tax in the producing country

2) Can you guarantee that all the workers producing this sugar, especially seasonal workers, are paid a living wage?

3) What efforts are you making to encourage "Fair Trade" style small scale outgrower schemes?"


Response from East End

15th Aug : A very quick initial response from East End said that "...this sugar which comes from a reputable supplier in Mauritius. We do not carry the Fair Trade logo as generally our customers are not willing to pay the premium for Fair Trade products. However, I assure you that I will have a reply from our supplier to your questions in due course."



16th Aug : Received a further response from East End passing on the following from their supplier :

"I can assure you that the Mauritius Sugar Syndicate, as the marketing arm of the sugar industry, is a non-profit organisation responsible for sales of all locally produced sugars - it subsequently distributes all sales proceeds, after deduction of common expenses, to the producers (including the smallest planters) on basis of the tonnage of sugar produced by each of them. You can ask your customer to visit our website www.mauritiussugar.mu for further information on our organisation."


Response from Billingtons

15th Aug : A very quick response from Billingtons saying "... all of our sugars are full produced at site. We are AB members of SEDEX (Supplier Ethical Data Exchange) and actively ensure high ethical standards are upheld throughout our supply chain through annual audits and visits. As such we can guarantee that all the workers in the supply chain of this sugar are treated well and earn a decent living wage... "

They also sent a copy of their "Code of Practice for Socially Responsible Sourcing", which states that "It is expected that all suppliers adhere to the principles within this Code of Practice, which is based upon the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) ‘Base Code’ and International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions." and, encouragingly, goes on to specifically mention that "wages should always be enough to meet basic needs and to provide some discretionary income."

Incidentally, and somewhat to BFTF's surprise, the code shows Billingtons to be part of the "Silver Spoon" company.




Conclusion
BFTF has been encouraged by the information from both suppliers, and is faced by the unexpected situation of having two options for buying ethically produced sugar.

Result!



2011(?):One small step that BFTF has taken to help keep fish stocks at sustainable levels is to try and only buy fish that has a blue “MSC“ logo on the packaging. “MCS” stands for Marine Conservation Society and their logo can only be used if the fishery and fishing vessels meet independently assessed standards for sustainable fishing and seafood traceability.

MCS certified fish has become increasingly easy to find in supermarkets, with MSC certified fish fingers and canned mackerel being the items that have caught the attention of BFTF.

BFTF has sent out emails to all the supermarkets it shops at regarding their fish products. Emails sent out are shown below in full, while the responses are described briefly :

Email sent to Sainsburys (MSC certified fish fingers, but not tinned mackerel):
“I just wanted to congratulate you on stocking fish fingers (and cod ones at that) that are MSC certified. Like many people, I am keen to ensure that the oceans are fished in a sustainable manner so I try and ensure that any fish products I buy are MSC certified. I note that neither Asda nor Tesco stock a similar product, so I don’t buy fish fingers from either of those two. Aldi do stock such an item – I’m afraid that I’ll have to spread my fish finger purchases between you both.
On the negative side, I’m afraid that as your tinned mackerel lines are not MSC certified, my sandwiches will be using mackerel from Asda or Tesco – sorry !”

Sainsburys responded by saying that they were, 'sorry that our tinned mackerel isn’t MSC certified' and then went on to mention that they were 'rated number one for responsible tuna sourcing by Greenpeace' and that they now stocked farmed salmon 'reared on RSPCA Freedom Food approved farms' where the 'salmon feeds do not contain any artificial colourants and only fish from well managed sources are included in the diet'. Perhaps most interestingly, they mentioned that "All of Sainsbury's fresh and frozen cod and haddock is line caught which significantly reduces bycatch'

**************************************************************

Email sent to Tescos (No MSC certified fish fingers, but do have MSC certified mackerel):
“I just wanted to congratulate you on stocking tins of MSC certified mackerel. Like many people, I am keen to ensure that the oceans are fished in a sustainable manner so I try and ensure that any fish products I buy are MSC certified.
On a negative note, I’m afraid that my weekly fish finger purchases will be going to Sainsburys or Aldi as their fish finger products are MSC certified and yours aren’t– sorry !

The response from Tesco included a comment that Tesco "can see that we have not met your expectation regarding Tesco fish fingers, the points you have raised have been logged mad ref and forwarded to the relevant department for consideration"

***************************************************************

Asda (No MSC certified fish fingers, but do have MSC certified mackerel) were sent the following:
"I just wanted to congratulate you on stocking tins of MSC certified mackerel. Like many people, I am keen to ensure that the oceans are fished in a sustainable manner so I try and ensure that any fish products I buy are MSC certified.
 On a negative note, I’m afraid that my weekly fish finger purchases will be going to Sainsburys or Aldi as their fish finger products are MSC certified and yours aren’t– sorry !"

Asda's reply included a comment that "It's always a pleasure to hear one of our products has hit the spot. We want you to enjoy everything you buy from us, so thank you for taking the time to tell us what you thought. We like to know we're getting things right." and then went on to say that they were sorry that they had lost custom due to some of their products not being MSc certified and that they had "passed your comments on to our buying team so they can look in to this further for you."

***************************************************************

Letter sent to Aldi (MSC certified fish fingers and MSC certified mackerel):
"I just wanted to congratulate you on stocking tins of MSC certified mackerel and also MSC certified fish fingers. This is something that Tesco, Asda and Sainsburys have not been able to achieve – so well done. You are my first port of call for these two products.
I also note that your household paper products (kitchen towels, tissues etc) are all FSC certified, so I occasionally purchase these.
Lastly, and on a more negative note, the books, printer paper etc that are sometimes sold as temporary products are never FSC certified so I do not purchase these.
Please keep up the (largely) good work"

The letter (!!) received from Aldi said thank you for the kind comments and that they would be forwarded to the buying department for their attention.

UPDATE : Jun 2012 Sadly, ALDI no longer stock MSC certified Fish Fingers, so BFTF has switched to Sainsburys, who do a lovely line of reasonably priced MSC certified fish fingers.
BFTF has also found their tinned MSC Mackerel in tomato sauce to have a sauce that is rather on the watery side,so has switched to the ASDA product - but that is something of a judgement call.


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Email sent to Birds Eye (“Forever Food” label) :
“Just wanted to let you know that I am nervous about your “Forever Food” label on your fish finger products as it is not an independent certification. Like many people, I am keen to ensure that the oceans are fished in a sustainable manner so I try and ensure that any fish products I buy are MSC certified. I have looked at the information on your website and note that you say that you work with the MSC, but I don’t see their label on you products. Until I do, I’m afraid that I’ll be buying the “own brand” MSC certified fish fingers from Aldi and Sainsburys. Sorry. "

The (slightly terse) response from Birds Eye commented that their sourcing criteria 'meet standards similar to the MSC regardless of whether the MSC logo is used or not.'

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Email sent to Youngs (“Fish for Life” label) :
“Just wanted to let you know that I am nervous about your “Fish for Life” label on your fish finger products as it is not an independent certification. Like many people, I am keen to ensure that the oceans are fished in a sustainable manner so I try and ensure that any fish products I buy are MSC certified. I have looked at the information on your website and note that you say that you work with the MSC, but I don’t see their label on you products. Until I do, I’m afraid that I’ll be buying the “own brand” MSC certified fish fingers from Aldi and Sainsburys. Sorry. "

No response received as of 21st March 2011





Sep 2012 How LITTLE can you buy at a supermarket?
As a general rule, Monday lunchtime sees BFTF and a work colleague or two going to the local TESCO for a few provisions to get through the working week.

But today, BFTF had bought stuff on the way to work, so didnlt really need much at luchtime.

BFTF went along anyway with the vague intention of buying some fair-trade bananas. TESCO didn't have any in stock (or at least none that BFTF likes the look of) and BFTF's mind started thinking about how supermarkets are always encouraging people to buy MORE stuff, so thought it might be a nice change to see how LITTLE one could buy.

Being in the Fruit and Veg aisle, BFTF's gaze fell upon the loose mushrooms and decided that buying a single solitary mushroom was a good place to start:

One single mushroom (which was delicious, by the way)

And it cost 7 new pence

To be fair, the chap at the checkout dealt with the purchase with an admirably straight bat. Good effort young man!

Buying that single mushroom made BFTF thing about how much food one REALLY needs to get through the day.

So, dear reader, BFTF wonders what is the cheapest thing you have bought from a supermarket might be. . . .



Aug 2011 : Palm oil is used in many foods and household products. It is also increasingly being used as a feedstock for biofuels.

The demand for palm oil is resulting in peatlands being drained and forests being cut down in south-east asia to make way for vast palm oil plantations. This is particularly ironic as the palm oil is then used to make an allegedly "green" fuel (see here for more about biofuels).

You can read about the issues in more detail here and here.

Anyway, BFTF bought some of ASDA's own brand "Best For Baking" spread recently and noticed that it contained Palm Oil.

Wanting to know what ASDA's policy was on Palm Oil, BFTF sent the following to ASDA via their feedback form.

"I bought some of ASDA'a own brand "Best For Baking" spread today and note, with concern, that it contains palm oil. What assurance can you give me that the palm oil used in this product has been grown on land that has not been reclaimed from peatland, or forest."

Update (21 Aug 11)
Received a response from ASDA describing how they were taking steps to look at the safety and wellbeing of Orangutans, including a training DVD for Palm Oil plantation workers (eh? BFTF Does not recall mentioning them in its original email. . . ). The response then goes on to state that ASDA was the first retailer to join the roundtable on sustainable palm oil (RSPO) and that they had “committed” to only sourcing palm oil from producers who respect the rainforest.

This is all very well (if a little ambiguous in places), but it does not really answer the question that BFTF asked. Sooooo, the following was bounced back to ASDA


Sep 2012 : BFTF tries to eat healthily, mostly fails mind you, but does at least try.

And as part of this effort, was chuffed to see that Tesco are selling packets of dried apple at a very reasonable price.

Unlike other dried fruit lines that BFTF has seen, this one is just apple, no addded sweetener or other nonsense - and being a fruit, the fibre content is very high, at 8.7g per 100g of product!

And it delivers on the taste front too, with feedback from family and work colleagues being uniformly positive.



So are there any down sides? Well, BFTF did have a couple of concerns, and put them to Tesco in the email below :

"I've been buying your dried apple product recently (code :5051399296210) and only have good things to say about it. It is tasty, simple, free from added sugar and high in natural fibre. I like it a lot.

Having said that, I wonder whether you could give some reassurance on two aspects of its production.

1) Can you confirm that natural forests have not been cleared to make way for the orchards.

2) Can you confirm that the orchard workers and fruit pickers are paid a living wage and treated in line with ILO / ETI recommendations?"

UPDATE : 03 OCT 12
Tesco did try and phone BFTF within a day or two, but BFTF missed their calls. Recently chased this up with them and received the following:

"I would like to assure you that safeguarding both the environments we source from, and the communities we work in, is something we take seriously.We are currently not aware of any land management issues, or cases of bad practice, at this farm however we are following this up with our supplier.With regards to your second point, we were a signatory and founder member of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) which was established in 1998, which includes a commitment to paying living wages. One of the core principles of our Tesco ‘Trading Fairly’ programme, which derives its principles from the ETI, focuses on our commitment to high labour standards and to ensuring compliance through supplier self-assessment and regular independent audits.

'Trading Fairly' is fully integrated within Tesco's operations, forming a key part of our broader strategy for corporate responsibility. Its objectives and activities are delivered by a wide range of commercial staff, overseen by a specialist ethical trading team including dedicated local staff in key supplying countries.

I hope that this response has assured you that we are committed to ensure high labour standards through-out our supply chain. More information about our ‘Trading Fairly’ programme can be found on our website, www.tescoplc.com/sourcing-policies.


UPDATE : 09 DEC 12
Received the following reassuring comments from TESCO:
No forests have been cleared in order to produce this product.



Mar 2012 : Mr Kiplings exceedingly free range cakes
BFTF was idly looking at a packet of Mr Kiplings Exceedingly Good Raspberry Slices (which are rather delicious by the way) when a banner in the top corner of the box caught BFTF's eye. It said "baked with Free Range Eggs".

How wonderful !!

BFTF has a little trouble understanding who anyone (other than those in dire economic straits) can buy eggs from caged hens when the alternative is so readily avaialable. It's true that Free Range eggs cost a little more, but eggs are only a small small part of the overall grocery budget and the moral case for buying free range is so clear.




Perhaps unsurprisingly, this resulted in a couple of emails being sent out.

One to Mr Kipling to say well done on using Free Range Eggs.

And one to ASDA asking why they couldn't do the same in their own brand products.

UPDATE:04APR 2012
Received a response from Mrs Kipling(?!)saying thanks for the message.

Received a call from ASDA saying that they were actively looking into the possibility of using free range eggs in their own label products and that my comments would be passed onto the relvant team. Which is rather encouraging!


Aug 2011 : Deforestation is a worldwide environmental issue. It results in the destruction of irreplaceable communities of plants and animals, as well as contributing to climate change, increased flooding risks and decimation of the livelihoods of the native peoples who live in forested areas. Some more of the background to this problem is described in this recent post.

Feeling unable to buy an interesting book because there was no evidence that it had been printed on paper made from sustainably grown trees, BFTF sent off the email below:
Dear Igloo Books,
I'm hoping you can provide some information on your policy regarding the paper used in your publications.

Some years ago, I decided to stop buying new books as I did not want to be supporting the destruction of the worlds natural forests to produce the paper used in these publications. Instead, I started buying second hand and from charity shops.

I recently saw a interesting book published by yourselves at my local ASDA, but could not see any indication that it was printed on sustainable sourced paper. As a result, I had to put the book back on the shelf, with something of a heavy heart it has to be said.

Only a minute earlier, I had put a copy of Bill Bryson's "At Home" in my shopping basket, safe in the knowledge that it was printed on FSC certified paper (I mention this in the hope that it provides evidence that my intention to buy an Igloo publication was not an idle threat).

So my question to you is : Is the paper used in Igloo Books publications sustainable sourced (ideally with some kind of third party verification such as being FSC certified)?




Jan 2011 : Tried to buy a sketch pad from WH Smith today for Number 2 son today but, to my dismay, none of the many sketch books at WH Smith used paper from a sustainable source - so bought one from Sainsburys instead. Emailed WHSmith to say I was disappointed and Sanisburys to say well done.

Sainsburys (the good guys in this particular instance) have said:
"Thanks for your email telling us about the great experience you had while shopping with us. We love to get this kind of feedback.  It shows that our hard work is all worthwhile and I will be sharing your comments with my colleagues in our stationary buying team. We are grateful to you for taking the time to contact us and for your support of Sainsbury’s."

Wheras WH Smith have commented:
"Thank you for your email of 29 January 2011, regarding the paper used in our own branded sketch pads. At WHSmith we pride ourselves on the quality of the products that we sell, so I am most concerned to learn that we have not met your expectations, on this occasion. Rest assured I will pass your feedback to our Buyer, who I am sure, will take your comments into consideration when deciding on future ranges. I am very sorry for any disappointment caused."

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