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April 02, 2001
Shopping for Responsibility

Internet site is helping consumers base shopping decisions on values.


Consumers looking to align their values with where they spend their dollars face the same challenge as social investors - how to obtain information on corporate social performance. While shoppers can look at SocialFunds.com's own Corporate Social Research Center to get company ratings, there is also an Internet site devoted solely to responsible consumption. ResponsibleShopper.org is an information resource that can help consumers, and social investors, learn more about how companies are impacting the environment and society.

"This site makes it much easier to become an informed consumer," said Carla Lukehart, a corporate responsibility researcher at Co-op America. "If we can get a large number of people to take action, Responsible Shopper will help push companies toward becoming more socially responsible," she added.

Responsible Shopper was created through a cooperative effort between Co-op America , Working Assets and the Council on Economic Priorities. Co-op America is a national non-profit whose mission involves addressing social and environmental problems through economic strategies and education. Working Assets is a long distance, credit card, Internet services, and broadcasting company that donates a portion of its sales revenues to progressive organizations. The Council on Economic Priorities (CEP) is a non-profit research organization that offers analysis of the social and environmental performance of corporations.

Responsible Shopper offers ratings for over 400 companies on three issues: the environment, workplace issues, and disclosure of information. The ratings, provided by CEP, have been supplemented by in-house research from Co-op America. Each company in the database has a profile page, which includes a brief description of the company's business as well as criticisms and praise the company has received regarding corporate social responsibility issues. Companies are also given space to reply to the ratings and content on the site.

The profile page lists all the brands the company owns and, depending on the case, its subsidiaries or its parent company. Most shoppers will find this very useful, as it can be difficult to keep on top of corporate mergers and buyouts. For example, some Responsible Shopper users may be surprised to learn that tobacco king Philip Morris owns food giant Kraft and "the champagne of beers," Miller Brewing.

Activist will like the site because it enables users to voice their opinions to companies quickly and easily. Each company profile page features a contact option that will compose an e-mail to the company based on issues of concern checked by the user. In less than a few minutes a user can commend or reprove a company for its performance.

Users can also get general information about whole industries, including descriptions of inherent problem areas. There are links to relevant newspaper and magazine articles as well as suggestions for responsible alternatives.

According to Lukehart, Responsible Shopper will add another 100-200 companies to the database this year. She said they may expand the scope of the site in the future by adding smaller companies.

Co-op America has also begun enlisting volunteers to do research. Lukehart said a number of people, well-versed on a variety of issues, will help increase the database's comprehensiveness as well as keep it up to date.

Consumers and social investors alike will find easy-to-access, useful information at Responsible Shopper. Now shoppers have no excuse not to make informed, responsible purchasing decisions.

 

 
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