Should you buy ethical brands owned by unethical companies? Check out the evidence below, then decide!
By Lora O’Brien
Ethical brands are more in demand than ever, thanks to more people being mindful about the planet. It’s easier than ever before to find organic food, natural skincare and non-toxic cleaning products. Vegans now have a plethora of options outside of hummus and falafel, and you no longer have to become a detective to find products that haven’t been tested on animals.
But you know what sucks? When you find a brand that you absolutely love, only to discover that they’re owned or have been brought out by bigger corporations that are the antithesis of ethical. You’ve loved that brand for ages, but now have to decide if you’re willing to put money into the coffers of corporations that are mainly doing incredible harm to the planet.
Big Corporations Sniffing Out Ethical Profits
It makes sense that larger corporations are now hunting for smaller ethical brands to buy. Focused on profit and cashing in on a growing market, bigger brands are swallowing up such smaller, greener brands as they take note of the volume of people looking for more eco-friendly alternatives in everything from foods and cosmetics to household cleaning products.
These bigger corporations won’t change the formulae of the successful products they’re snapping up. But they also won’t change their horrendous business practices overall. I’m talking about testing on animals, rainforest destruction, tax evasion, using (or even producing) GMO products, and using what is basically slave labour, for example.
While we may feel good about buying brands we think support nature, we need to be very careful about knowing who really owns those companies! And once we do know that, we need to make some decisions. So, should you buy ethical brands owned by unethical companies? Take a look at the facts below, and let us know what you think!
Ethical Brands Owned by Unethical Companies
1. Seeds of Change
Seeds of Change was once a breath of fresh air for conscious consumers seeking organic products. They offered convenient organic sauces and ready made foods to those of us who want to eat healthy, but have little time to cook for ourselves. Originally a seed company back in 1989, with a research farm that was home to thousands of varieties of plants, Seeds of Change decided to translate their organic plants into supermarket foods.
After candy giant Mars bought the company, Seeds of Change continued to run as it had before. But in 2010, Mars decided to close the Seeds of Change Research Farm and Gardens. The shutdown caused a backlash against Mars, especially since the farm had been synonymous with the brand. Mars also criticised new EU health laws introduced in 2007 to tackle the growing obesity epidemic, claiming they could be used to restrict advertising. And in 2004 Mars failed to respond to an international petition urging it to include Fairtrade chocolate in its product range.
Is buying Seeds of Change ethical?
Mars mainly deals in sugary products, and sugar is driving the obesity epidemic. But Seeds of Change continues to sell organic seeds and foods, and also encourages a plant based lifestyle. For every item you buy, they plant nutritious seeds through school growing programs across the USA. That’s pretty good, right? So I’d say, this is one of those brands owned by unethical companies that gets the green light from me, personally.
2. Green & Black’s
When it comes to Fair Trade chocolate, Green & Black’s was a pioneer. In 1994, they became the first company to sell a chocolate bar with Fair Trade certification. So, it was shocking for many to discover that, in 2005, the brand was bought out by Cadbury, which later became part of Mondelez.
Unfortunately, Mondelez doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to its ethics. They source cocoa which has been linked to child labour and other workers right issues. The brand was even found to be illegally marketing its sugary products specifically to children in 2019.
And back in 2016, Mondelez was in hot water for buying palm oil from the secretive palm oil trading company Olam. This company was linked to deforestation in Southeast Asia and Africa. Again in both 2018 and 2020, Mondelez was criticised for still not addressing the problem of ‘conflict palm oil’ in its supply chains. In fact, many critics say there is pretty much no such thing as ‘ethical’ palm oil!
Is buying Green & Black’s ethical?
This is one of those brands owned by unethical companies I’d avoid like the plague. I’m going to have to say a hard NO to this one, for two main reasons: the parent company’s use of child labour, and rainforest-destroying palm oil.
I think I can speak for many fellow vegans when I say that Oatly was a revelation for the vegan movement. Finally, a milk that is delicious in everything, from cereal and smoothies to coffee! But it seems the dairy-free alternative faced backlash in 2020, with many calling for the brand to be boycotted. This came after the brand was found to have welcomed a hefty $200 million investment from the private equity firm Blackstone. Part owned by Stephen Schwartzman, Blackstone has financial links to companies that have been accused of deforestation in the Amazon.
Furthermore, Blackstone has been accused of facilitating Amazon deforestation again through its share in Hidrovias do Brasil. Hidrovias is enabling the export of illegal timber through its shipping terminals. It is also being involved in the development of a major road through the forest. The latter was created as a means of easier transportation of clear-cut timber. The result? Indigenous communities and nature are being destroyed!
Is buying Oatly ethical?
Since Oatly apparently approached Blackstone for investment, despite their links to deforestation being widely documented, we’d say this company was more focused on profits than ethics. Furthermore, huge unethical companies use small sustainable brands to greenwash and make themselves look better. Blackstone has already used Oatly for ‘green’ publicity on Instagram. Finally, oats are normally heavily sprayed with carcinogenic glyphosate – which means this drink is terrible for the environment, AND your health! The solution? Make your own, with organic oats. It’s easy!
4. Innocent Smoothies
Sure, they look inviting on the shelf of supermarkets. They even have cute little knitted hats atop the bottles. But while Innocent may seem like an ethical brand to support when on the go, the fact that it’s 90% owned by Coca-Cola gives should give you cause for concern!
Since its founding in 1886, the soft drink giant has been controversial for decades. As most of us know by now, they aimed to make the original drink addictive with the inclusion of actual cocaine. They’ve been complicit in the violence against union members and have contributed to water crises in countries as far ranging as India and El Salvador. Basically, they use scarce drinking water to repackage and resell to citizens as Coca-Cola, or bottled water. Oh, and let’s not forget the horrifying fact the company is also one of the world’s largest plastic polluters.
In 1999 Coca Cola was sued by 1,500 African American employees for racial discrimination. The lawsuit accused the company of discriminating in areas of pay, promotion, and performance evaluation. The suit also alleged that top management had known about company-wide discrimination since 1995 but had done nothing about it. In 1992 Coca-Cola had pledged to spend $1 billion on goods and services from minority vendors, an action designed to show the public that Coca Cola did not discriminate, but the lawsuit from its own employees painted a different picture. It seems Coca Cola never learned its lesson – they’ve recently told Caucasian employees to ‘be less white.’ Whatever that means!
Is buying Innocent Smoothies ethical?
Innocent isn’t so…innocent, unfortunately. This is one of those brands owned by unethical companies to be avoided. We’d hate to support any brand which lines the pockets of brand as evil as Coca-Cola. Not to mention Innocent Smoothies are packaged as a healthy drink, but the truth is, it’s very high in sugar, and comes in a plastic bottle.
5. Ecover and Method
An important change in my family was switching over to non-toxic washing detergents. One brand we’ve used and loved is Method. So I was more than a little bummed to discover they were bought out by SC Johnson. The same goes for Ecover, another ‘clean’ detergent brand.
Though Ecover and Method are marketed as being ethical and cruelty-free brands, they’ve both faced a severe backlash thanks to SC Johnson’s links to extensive animal testing. Yep, that’s right: the company frequently does the worst kinds of animal testing, on all kinds of animals, from cats and dogs to mice and monkeys.
Is it ethical to buy Ecover or Method?
Both Ecover and Method have said they are committed to using their influence to convince SC Johnson to cease animal testing. But you know what? I have my doubts. This is another of those ethical brands owned by unethical companies I’m avoiding. I’ll be using Borax, lemon juice, baking soda and vinegar to clean my house, just like granny did, thanks very much!
When it comes to clean beauty, Origins may be a brand that many trust thanks to the natural ingredients used to make their products. But considering the brand was founded by the son of Estee Lauder, Leonard Lauder, I’ve not convinced that the ethics of this brand are as clean as its products claim to be!
The vegetarian brand may market itself as being kind to the planet thanks to their use of minimal packaging and their pledge to plant trees. But the brand is far from cruelty-free. Though they claim to not believe in testing on animals, promoting the power of nature and the proof of science, their parent company is Estee Lauder. Not only is this company widely known for testing on animals, it was also involved in a major lawsuit for making false claims. Specifically, they stated certain creams could deliver results – but there was no proof they could! Would you trust such a brand?
Of course, Origins also sells its products in stores in mainland China, where animal testing is made mandatory for most imported cosmetics. It’s no surprise Origins is not certified as being cruelty-free by any organisation.
Is buying Origins ethical?
The fact Origins offers consumers vegan beauty products is hypocritical, to say the least. The brand is not cruelty-free. The fact they’re marketing products to people who care deeply about the welfare of animals is unethical. I wouldn’t buy from Origins, even if their product was marketed as being 100% vegan.
7. Ben & Jerry’s
When you crave ice cream, there’s not a flavour Ben & Jerry’s hasn’t thought up. Not to mention the genius pun-riddled names for each tub! The company’s long-standing social, environmental and corporate justice missions made them a snack company many were happy to support. But when co-founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield sold their business in 2000 to food and chemical giant Unilever, many of their supporters went cold. With good reason!
Unilever said they were determined to nurture Ben & Jerry’s commitment to community values, donating 7.5 per cent of their profits to social causes. However, that’s nothing compared to the evil that is Unilever.
Unilever does extensive animal testing on many of its products. Although they seemed to be working to end the use of animal testing in cosmetics, food, and household cleaning products, Unilever operates in many countries that still require animal testing. For that reason, Unilever received Ethical Consumer’s worst rating for animal testing.
But that’s not all. Unilever is a member of two lobby groups that push for free trade at the expense of the environment, animal welfare, human rights or health protection. These two groups are the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), and the World Economic Forum,
What’s more, according to the Just Peace in Palestine/Israel (VTJP) website, Ben & Jerry’s was selling ice cream within illegal Israeli settlements. So much for social justice, then.
Is Ben & Jerry’s ethical?
I think it’s pretty bold of Ben & Jerry’s to create adverts that promote ethical causes they want to raise awareness for, whilst ignoring the dire animal and human rights violations of their parent company. I’ll be buying my vegan ice cream from smaller, indie brands, for sure!
Alpro may have been one of the first brands on the market offering dairy-free alternatives. But its owner, Groupe Danone, is far, far, FAR from ethical when it comes to both human and animal rights.
Through its many brands such as Danone, Oykos, Activia, Silk and Actimel, Danone is the number one retailer of fresh dairy products worldwide. The company still uses huge scale, industrial factory farms for most of its products, which is a cause for concern when it comes to animal welfare. Danone themselves have also admitted in their 2016 position paper on animal testing that the brand also conducts tests on animals.
Is buying Alpro ethical?
With so many ethical, honest vegan milk options available, we’d choose them over Alpro any day. This is especially one of those ethical brands owned by unethical companies that vegans should shun. It’s hard to stomach supporting a brand that is a major player in the very industry whose practises made you want to go vegan in the first place!
Aveda is a brand that offers natural, eco-friendly hair care products. But some may question the ethical credentials of this brand and whether or not it’s truly cruelty-free. That’s because its parent company is the rather nasty Estee Lauder.
As mentioned above, Estee Lauder makes misleading claims about their products and tests on animals. But they’re a very dodgy company for many other reasons, too. For example, they launched the Pink Ribbon breast cancer campaign, which basically donated all funds from this ‘charity’ to Big Pharma. ‘Corporate welfare’ at its worst! The company has also been involved in a huge tax avoidance scandal. Which makes them about as ethical as Amazon!
That being said, Aveda makes bold statements on their website that back up their promise to be eco-friendly. For example, they’ve launched a range that comes in plant-based, biodegradable packaging. They also state that they do not test on animals, and neither do they ask people to do so on their behalf. Their suppliers also do not test on animals, nor does Aveda allow their products to be tested on animals when required by law.
All of their products are 100% vegan and contain no animal-derived ingredients or by-products. Previous products that used beeswax and honey have been replaced with vegan alternatives.
Is buying Aveda ethical?
The fact that Aveva themselves do not test on animals and have refused to sell in mainland China is wonderful. However, their parent company is just pure evil! Personally, this is another of the ethical brands owned by unethical companies I won’t buy. I wouldn’t want to add one penny to Estee Lauder’s already overflowing coffers! Especially since there are plenty of fully ethical hair care companies owned by good people I could support instead.
Pureology is a brand I’ve bought before and have loved. The fact they provide hair care products that work, minus all the toxic crap, is fabulous. The not so fabulous part? They’re owned by a sketchy parent company!
Pureology is part of the L’Oreal group, the world’s largest beauty products company. L’Oreal is notorious for animal testing. Oh, and it’s 23% owned by evil corporate giant, Nestle.
When it comes to animal testing, L’Oreal continues to sell products to China where it is required by regulatory authorities to test its products on animals. L’Oreal has fought against the 2003 ban on animal testing in the EU, continuing to push back on it. That’s why people have been boycotting the brand for some time now.
They also contribute to chemical pollution in the environment and cancer through the use of their products. For example, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found seven chemicals linked to cancer in L’Oreal products including benzophenone-1; titanium dioxide; and four formaldehyde-releasing preservatives. In addition, the Campaign found four ingredients that were possibly contaminated with the known cancer-causing chemicals PFOA, acrylamide and asbestiform fibers. These chemicals were found in shampoos, nail polishes, eye liners, mascaras, and many more products.
Is buying Pureology ethical?
Being owned by L’Oreal is far from ideal. But this is one of those ethical brands owned by unethical companies that I’ll stay faithful to. Pureology has confirmed they never test their products or ingredients on animals. Nor do they ask others to test on their behalf. Their suppliers don’t test on animals either, and Pureology doesn’t sell their products in mainland China or any other country that may require animal testing by law. So, we’re still happy to support them!
Do you know of any other ethical brands owned by unethical companies that we missed? Let us know in the comments, below!
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