Trader Joe’s has come a long way. Once criticized by Greenpeace for selling seafood products that endangered marine species, the grocery store chain has since done a commendable job of removing loads of non-sustainable products from its shelves.
However, selling organic products isn’t enough to make any hypermarket chain ethical. For Trader Joe’s to be fully ethical, it must have strict environmental standards, promote eco-friendly practices, and provide fair wages and working policies to its workers.
In addition to the above, ethical supermarkets are those that treat animals in a humane manner. Given the involvement of so many factors, it might be overwhelming for ordinary shoppers to score Trader Joe’s for ethics. To help you out find out, we have come up with this guide.
Is Trader Joe’s Ethical?
Trader Joe’s has taken the following steps in its efforts to become an ethical company:
- Around 23% of the products in its stores are organic
- It donates 100% of foodstuff that goes unsold but is safe to use
- The company is one of few Fairtrade-certified brands in the US
- All its products are free of GMOs, synthetic colors, or artificial flavors
- In 2022 alone, the company donated $411 million worth of food products to non-profit partners across the US.
- Employees get good health insurance, benefits, and an opportunity for a raise every 6 months
- Around 63% of its employees think they are paid fairly, the highest of any hypermarket chain
- It has taken veritable steps to eliminate child labor in the chocolate industry
That said, there are areas where it could do better, such as:
- Trader Joe’s still uses climate-polluting hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in its old stores
- It does not have a zero-deforestation commitment for its products
- Although it eliminated more than 6 million pounds of plastics in 2019 and more than 2 million pounds in 2020, it still has a long way to go to completely rid its stores of throwaway plastic packaging
In light of the above facts, it is nearly impossible to rate Trader Joe’s as ethical or unethical. While the company has climbed many steps on the ethics ladder, it still has to climb a few more rungs before it can be recognized as an entirely ethical company.
Is Trader Joe’s A Sustainable Company?
According to a 2021 report, Trader Joe’s is the least sustainable of seven major stores in the US – including Walmart, Whole Foods, Costco, and Target.
The report awarded Trader Joe’s with a dismal score of 14 out of a possible 50, mainly due to its poor performance in categories like in-store recycling, adopting clean energy, and efforts to reduce waste.
Fast forward to 2022, and another report ranked Trader Joe’s as one of the least sustainable stores in the US. The report blamed TJ’s decision not to disclose how much pollutant-filled HFCs (gases used to keep foods cold during refrigeration) as the major reason for its dismal ranking.
However, in recent months, the company has taken several praiseworthy steps.
In 2022, the company claimed to recycle 4.6 million wood pallets, 277 million pounds of plastic, and more than 311 million pounds of cardboard boxes.
Trader Joe’s has also ditched plastic mesh packaging from produce, removing plastic rings from six-packs of beer and replacing plastic clamshells with a sealed plastic tray. Plus, It has eliminated plastic packaging from several fruits and vegetables, replacing it with paper.
Does Trader Joe’s Support Fair Trade?
Trader Joe’s is one of around 100 Fair Trade Certified brands in the US.
A Fair Trade Certified brand is one that has been certified by an independent organization to meet social, economic, and environmental standards. This certification serves as proof that the brand is committed to fair trade practices, such as:
- Environmentally sustainable production processes, such as reducing waste and using renewable energy
- Payment of fair wage to workers, which is typically higher than the minimum wage
- Safe working conditions and reasonable working hours
- Prohibition of forced labor and child labor in the supply chain, production, and processing
- Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining
Is Trader Joe’s Eco-Friendly?
An eco-friendly company is one that follows several practices to help the environment. These practices include sourcing sustainably and ethically sourced products and taking steps to reduce packaging waste, minimize energy use, and reduce waste throughout their operations.
A mere glance at Trader Joe’s practices shows that it ticks most of the above boxes.
Only in 2022, the company removed more than 12 million pounds of plastic packaging from its products. It also changed packaging in over 20 products from virgin plastic to 100% recycled plastic.
Trader Joe’s also eliminated packaging in 40+ items in its produce department and recycled 27 million pounds of plastic. All these initiatives show that the company is taking giant leaps in its goal of becoming an eco-friendly organization in the upcoming decade.
Is Trader Joe’s Chocolate Slavery Free?
Given that Trader Joe’s has yet to publicly disclose its cocoa supply chain, one cannot be entirely sure whether its chocolate is slavery-free.
Here’s why that isn’t surprising.
Most of the world’s chocolate is grown in West Africa, a region that employs over 2 million children in its cocoa-growing pockets. This makes it incredibly likely that the chocolate you see on your favorite hypermarket’s shelves is a produce of child labor.
One reason is that chocolate companies cannot still identify the farms from where all their cocoa comes from. Mars, the maker of M&M’s, can only trace 24 percent of its cocoa back to farms; Nestle, leading the pack, can trace less than half; Hershey can trace just 48%.
Which is unsurprising given the amounts the companies have spent to address the issue. While the cocoa industry rakes in $103 billion in sales per year, it has only spent more than $150 million to rectify this problem. It’s clear, then, why children are still employed in cocoa fields.
Is Trader Joe’s Green?
A green company is an organization that:
- Ensures its operations and practices are sustainable
- Provides fair wages and safe working conditions
- Offers eco-friendly products to its customers
- Transparent about its environmental and social impact
Trader Joe’s partially checks three of the four above factors, though it is yet to fully disclose the environmental and social impact of its business operations. As such, it can be said with certainty that the hypermarket chain isn’t completely green.
Does Trader Joe’s Use Artificial Color?
Trader Joe’s doesn’t use artificial colors in any of its products. All of the colors it uses are derived from naturally available products, such as plants (e.g., paprika, turmeric, annatto, etc.) and minerals (e.g., ferrous gluconate or titanium dioxide).
Trader Joe’s has undertaken several initiatives to distance itself from its not-so-glorious and unethical past practices. However, despite making those improvements, the company still has room for improvement if it wants to be classified as ethical.