Gregg’s, McDonald’s, Gillette: Should we buy “ethical” products from “unethical” brands?

Jan 19, 2019

Unless you’ve been living under a rock/avoiding those Lad Bible style pages on Facebook (I can’t blame you if it’s that last one tbh), then you’ve definitely heard that Gregg’s have got a new vegan item on their menu. Yep, that’s right, the infamous plant-based sausage roll. That little parcel of crispy goodness that sent Piers Morgan and half of Twitter into a meltdown.

Because, of course it did.

Ignoring the people that were screaming “STOP SHOVING VEGANISM DOWN MY THROAT” at the poor social media crew over at Gregg’s, the response from vegans themselves was relatively mixed. On the one hand, people seemed pretty chuffed just to have an accessible, cheap vegan option that they could grab on their lunch break, without having to scourer the meal-deal shelves reading labels. On the other, people were vowing not to support the new sausage roll. Either they wanted to give their money to independent vegan cafes instead, or they didn’t want to give it to a company that would continue to kill animals for their “regular” menu items.

I feel like this little sausage roll and its not so little response is a pretty perfect example of a question that I’ve been asking myself a lot recently: What do we do when an “unethical brand” brings out an “ethical” product?

To buy it or to boycott?


A woman holding a mug of tea, with a magazine about ethical living on her lap

“Hey look! We’re doing good things!”

So far, 2019 has a been a year of companies jumping on board the ethical train. Either they recognise that being kind sells, or they’re genuinely concerned about their impact on the earth/animals/planet/all of the above.

Take Gillet for example. There’s no denying that their latest advert is a huge step in the right direction. I mean, unless you’re the type of man who argues that upskirting shouldn’t have been made illegal. In which case, there probably is some denying it. As far as I’m concerned though, telling men to be better humans and to not feel compelled to live up to harmful stereotypes is no bad thing.

To be honest, when I first watched the advert, for all of about 5 seconds, I was ready to get my butt down to a supermarket and buy a whole shelf of their shaving foam. I wanted to give them my coin by way of saying “YES. This is what I like to see! Do more of this please, industry!”

However, those thoughts of a shaving foam arsenal didn’t last long.

Gillette is owned by Proctor and Gamble (P&C) who, as any of my cruelty-free hunnies will know, are certainly not the most ethical of companies for three main reasons. Firstly, since they choose to sell brands like Olay and Old Spice in Mainland China, they are required by law to conduct animal testing. Secondly, they are reported to have sourced palm oil from a supplier where major labour issues were uncovered, including kids as young as eight working in “hazardous conditions”. Thirdly, the huge amounts of waste produced by disposable razors or disposable razor heads – neither of which are recyclable – is a contributing factor to the masses of plastic pollution on our planet.

So, should that one advert convince me to buy their products? Probs not.

But Gillette aren’t alone. The examples are endless: McDonald’s launching a vegan Happy Meal whilst still cashing in on meat sales. H&M launching its sustainable clothing line “Conscious”, despite its history of unethical labour practices in its main line. Simple launching the biodegradable version of its usual makeup wipes, whilst still keeping the original, non-eco version on the shelves.

The sustainability catch-22

On the surface, all of these are great moves and, since I know that my voice as as a consumer is my money, I want to support ethical endeavours of all kinds. I want my cash to scream “YES! Give us more of that!”. I want to prove that there’s a market for clothes not produced in sweat shops, for food that doesn’t harm animals and for adverts that don’t play on harmful stereotypes. Because, ultimately, that’s how we make these movements mainstream and thereby allow them to have the largest impact on how our world actually functions.

However, I also don’t like the idea of funding corrupt practices in any way. Even if I were to buy an ethical item from one of these brands, I would still be giving my money to a company that makes most of their profit from selling the opposite. And if we’re being honest, do they really care about sustainability? Probably not. If they did then their ethics would extend far beyond one rail of clothes, one item on a menu or one advert.

So, should you give your money to these companies?

It’s a difficult one, isn’t it?

To be honest, it’s not possible for me (or anyone!) to tell you whether you should buy “ethical products” from “unethical companies”. It completely depends on your own boundaries and what matters most to you. Whilst one person might massively value the spread of veganism and get their booty straight down to Gregg’s, others might value supporting small businesses and so swan over to an independent vegan cafe instead. And neither person is wrong for their choice. In fact, they’re both just trying to do what they think is the more ethical option.

Sorry pals, I don’t have all of the answers on this one.

But I have come up with a way to help you when you’re faced with such dilemmas.

I’ve create a resource to help you decide which ethical values matter most to you and to teach you how to implement those values whilst shopping. In my completely free four-page workbook you’ll learn how to absolutely nail your own ethical boundaries by getting rid of the online noise and focusing on your own moral compass. By the end of it, you’ll truly be able to answer the question “should I buy from this brand?”, no matter who they are or what they sell.


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