WHEN WE WERE GROWING UP, quite a few years ago, our family didn't buy Sinclair gasoline, Ward's bread and several other products. Harry Sinclair had been involved in the Teapot Dome scandal, one of the Wards in some personal debauchery, etc.

Now the Council on Economic Priorities, an independent, non-profit research organization, is attempting to revive the idea of personal boycotts. In a new book, "Rating America's Corporate Conscience," it evaluates 130 leading corporations - among them Johnson & Johnson, RJR Nabisco, General Electric, Beatrice Foods and Kellogg - on such matters as involvement in South Africa, the number of women and minority directors and officers, the size of charitable contributions and dependence on nuclear or other weapons manufacturing.The book is designed as a buyer's guide, pitting products like Ultra-brite toothpaste (Colgate-Palmolive), Crest (Procter & Gamble) and Aim (Unilever) against one another. The organization's recommendation? Crest, largely because of Procter & Gamble's large charitable contributions, employment of women and minorities and absence from South Africa.

"We cast an economic vote whenever we buy a product or invest in a company," says Alice Tepper Marlin, one of the book's authors.

Responsibility at the checkout counter.

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