The Co-op topped the poll in a readers' survey to mark the 25th birthday of Ethical Consumer magazine.
Ethical Consumer co-director Tim Hunt said: "Over the past 25 years the Co-op has been at the forefront of the ethical consumer movement. From its supermarket, which was the first retailer to stock only Fairtrade bananas and ban products from the Occupied Palestinian Territories, to the pioneering ethical policy of its bank, the Co-operative Group has been a genuine ethical trailblazer.”
"Many commentators have had their knives out for the Co-op Group in recent months. Ethical Consumer's readers however are able to see through the spin and realise that despite the problems the Co-op remains an ethical business at heart – at least for the time being.”
In the same survey the controversial multi-national food giant Nestlé topped the poll as the least ethical company over the past 25 years.
The Swiss-based company is the subject of the world's longest-running boycott with activists campaigning against the marketing of its baby milk formula for over 30 years.
Ethical Consumer co-director Tim Hunt said: “Our poll shows that people still feel strongly about Nestlé even after so many years, despite the company's best efforts at greenwash by using Fairtrade chocolate in some of its products. From baby milk to Kit Kats and across all its product lines, Nestlé's brands score just 1 out of 14 on our ethical rankings tables.”
In the same survey Amazon, Tesco and Shell were named as the most boycotted companies.
The top 10 most ethical companies over the past 25 years as voted by Ethical Consumer readers are:
Co-op; Lush, Traidcraft; Triodos; People Tree; Ecotricity; Suma; Good Energy; Riverford; John Lewis.
The top ten least ethical companies over the past 25 years as voted by Ethical Consumer readers are:
Nestlé; Monsanto; Amazon; Shell; Tesco; Barclays; Exxon; Wal Mart; Coca Cola; Primark
The most boycotted companies as voted by Ethical Consumer readers are:
Amazon; Tesco; Shell; Primark; Coke.
Details on the reader survey can be seen here: http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/aboutus/ethicalconsumerat25/thebestandworstofthelast25years.aspx
Readers were asked what was the biggest action they had taken to reduce their environmental impact. The top five answers were:
Changed electricity suppliers; gone vegan, bought solar panels; started cycling for transport; stopped flying.
Readers were also asked what was their most difficult ethical shopping decision. The top five answers were:
Stop using Amazon; stop flying; boycotting unethical clothing retailers; not upgrading my mobile phone; stop eating meat.
In addition to that readers were asked what will be the most important developments for ethical shopping over the next 25 years. The top five answers were:
Better ethical labelling; more Fairtrade products; greater transparency from companies; clamping down on tax avoidance; greater use of social media to share ethical shopping choices.
And further readers were asked what product or brand they would like to be ethical that currently isn't.
The most popular response was Apple.
Launched in 1989 Ethical Consumer is the UK's leading ethical and environmental magazine. In each issue Ethical Consumer examines the ethical and environmental record of the companies behind everyday products and services from bread to banks. For more information visit the Ethical Consumer website: www.ethicalconsumer.org