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Ethical Shopping on the Rise Even During Holidays

With the holiday season upon us, consumers are hitting the shops to spend more on food and gifts. But, there is a growing trend of ethical awareness about consumer products and more shoppers say they are basing their choices on what to buy by considering if it is ethically correct. Tendai Maphosa has more in this report from London.

For retailers the end of year holiday season is crucial for their profit margin. But consumer awareness groups say an increasing number of shoppers now do more than just buy whatever is on offer - they want to know whether what they are purchasing was ethically produced.

The British Retail Consortium forecast a 46 percent rise in sales of organic turkeys this Christmas. This means the birds must be free range and raised on feed that contains no additives.

One focus of the ethical consumer campaign is on animal products. Compassion In World Farming is an animal welfare organization that seeks to improve the lives of farm animals.

"We have seen a recent survey conducted by the European Commission and 68 percent of European consumers are actually changing their place of shop on the basis of animal welfare," said Rowen West-Henzell, a spokesperson for the organization.

West-Henzell says that during her organization's 40 years in existence it has scored some major victories such as the ban on crates for calves in the European Union. Changes in the way chickens are handled also come into effect in 2012. Compassion in World Farming has also persuaded major retailers to look into their source of food. The group says that as a result, fast food giant McDonald's, for one, now uses only free-range eggs in Britain and some other European countries.

Another major area of concern for consumer awareness campaigners is human rights. Earlier this year international clothing retailer Gap withdrew a line of clothes after charges that they had been manufactured using child labor.

One activist group, the Ethical Consumer, campaigns for greater all-round awareness. Spokesperson Mary Rayner told VOA her organization focuses on five main areas; the environment, people, animals, politics and product sustainability.

"The environment [as an issue] is looking at issues such as whether the company has any history of pollution; whether its involved in nuclear power. Human rights is looking at issues such as whether workers in their supply factories have been treated well and also looking at issues such as whether they have operations in what we call oppressive regimes," she said. "Politics is looking at areas such as whether they donate to political parties, do they pay very much tax, and have they got subsidiaries in tax havens. Sustainability is looking at areas, such as whether a product is organic or fair trade."

Rayner likened ethical consumerism to "using one's wallet to vote" by buying ethically correct goods and shunning those that do not qualify.

Christmas, for those who observe it, is a time of feasting and a good time to find out what motivates shoppers - are they opting for organically and ethically produced products even though these may cost more?

"Because it tastes better and there are more guarantees on the way it is produced; the way the animals and vegetables, etc. are treated in general," said one shopper.

"It is better for the environment, if more people buy it hopefully the price will go down," another shopper said.

"I am not in a position where I can spend lots of money on organic food, but sometimes I treat myself so I feel like it is a treat to have organic food," said a third shopper.

Organic food may be a treat for some but for a growing number of Britons it seems that ethical production is becoming a major factor on where and how they spend their money.