Companies that produce outdoor gear such as waterproof jackets, hiking boots and tents have been accused of causing serious damage to the environment and of ignoring workers' rights in a scathing new report.
The study claims that despite conveying a wholesome ethical image, the industry is heavily dependent on the oil business, and everything from jackets to tents are made from non-sustainable, climate-changing oil-based chemicals, the production of which results in highly polluting toxic waste.
Popular brands such as Berghaus, Scots firm Highlander, Helly Hansen and Craghoppers were among the 60 firms investigated, most of which were heavily criticized. The report said many companies are increasingly acting like the fashion industry in being "hell-bent in flogging" the public ever-increasing amounts of outdoor products no matter what the environmental cost.
The study, by Ethical Consumer magazine, also raised concerns about widespread use of nanotechnology, increasingly being used by manufacturers of high-performance walking jackets. Experts such as the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution are concerned that when nanomaterials escape into the environment they may be harmful to people and wildlife.
Another issue raised by the report was that most companies have no policies in place to protect workers' rights abroad. The study concluded that when it comes to ethical issues, the industry is one of the worst performing trade sectors it has investigated. Tim Hunt, of Ethical Consumer, said: "Whilst you may appreciate being kept dry in a downpour, you probably aren't aware that the production of your jacket results in highly polluting toxic waste.
"It's the ultimate irony of course that while outdoor gear companies depend upon a pristine environment for their profitability, the vast majority show a total disregard for the environmental impact of their businesses. It would be unfair to single out any one company as being the worst of the lot as they're all as overwhelmingly poor as each other." Only a few firms earned praise, including Paramo for their fleeces and waterproof jackets, and Ethical Wares and Vegetarian Shoes for walking boots.
However, a number of firms named by EC reacted angrily to the report and disputed its findings. Highlander, based in Livingston, said scores were given on products that it did not manufacture. Ramin Golzari, Highlander's sales director, said: "As a company we pride ourselves on our ethical policy.
"Having recently been appointed an official licensee for the London 2012 Olympic Games, we have had to go through a rigorous selection process which requires we pay careful attention to environmental and social welfare."
Richard Cotter, Berghaus brand president, said: "Berghaus is proud of its record as an ethical business, which is not accurately reflected in this report. We are well aware of our responsibilities and these inform our approach to everything that we do as a company. We would have welcomed the chance to discuss all of this with the team at Ethical Consumer but that opportunity was not offered."
Richard Collier, Helly Hansen vice resident, said his company's score in the study was based on Ethical Consumer's review of its parent company's portfolio of companies, rather than the Helly Hansen brand and business.
He added: "On the occasions where the report does reflect specific Helly Hansen activity, we found the research and analysis behind the survey to be incomplete and potentially misleading. Contrary to the report's findings, Helly Hansen is proud to have a strong ethical and environmental stance."
Craghoppers said it was one of the first companies to become carbon neutral. A spokeswoman added: "Not only is all our cotton organic and Fairtrade but we are continually reviewing our factories and researching ethical manufacturers. The Ethical Consumer magazine report was compiled with no feedback from Craghoppers."
The Outdoor Industries Association said the report touched on important issues and highlighted some of the challenges all businesses face.