A small but growing number of retailers are publishing details of their policies on chemicals in response to pressure from environmental groups. B&Q, M&S and Boots, in particular, are tackling the issue systematically.
Last year, Friends of the Earth published league tables ranking companies on how well they manage the issue and whether they publicly report details of their policies. The group recently wrote to companies asking for an update. It plans to publish new league tables next year.
Safeway is the first major supermarket chain to take the step - although the Co-op and Marks & Spencer have signed FoE's "risky chemicals pledge" and aim to phase out suspected endocrine disruptors or bioaccumulative substances from their products within five years (ENDS Report 331, pp 31-32 ).
In November, Safeway announced that it has published a progress report on its review of chemical ingredients in its own-brand, non-food products.
The move was "in response to the increasing concern over chemicals in non-foods," said the store. "We get a lot of requests for this kind of information from investors, customers and environmental groups," said Safeway's Jeremy Burnie. "Now we can refer them to this list."
The company has not signed FoE's pledge, said Mr Burnie, because it covers all of a retailer's products, not just non-food. Supermarkets generally are struggling to cut pesticide residues in fruit and vegetables (ENDS Report 345, pp 36-37 ).
Safeway started looking at chemicals two years ago, when it adopted two policies. One was to phase out musk xylenes and nitromusks by January 2003. The other was to phase out by December 2002 the original 15 "chemicals of concern" listed by the OSPAR Convention on protection of the North Sea. An updated OSPAR list, with 32 extra chemicals, has since been adopted and Safeway has recently asked its suppliers to provide details of where any of these are used.
The company has developed a code of practice on chemical ingredients "to ensure chemicals that are causing concern due to bioaccumulation, have links to carcinogenic response, cause allergic reactions or accumulate in the environment are controlled."
In contrast, Safeway is merely seeking to "find out if packaging suppliers are aware of or are signatories to the environmental charter for UK PVC manufacturers." The charter is limited to certain environmental impacts associated with PVC. Moreover, it is impossible for retailers to know if the PVC used in their products comes only from the two UK producers (ENDS Report 321, pp 35-36 ).
Morrisons, one of the front-runners to take over Safeway, does not mention environmental issues on its website. The company came bottom in FoE's retailer league table.