In recent weeks two major manufacturers, Cadbury and Mars, have both made pledges to make ethical sourcing a core part of their strategy in the coming years (although Mars' is geared towards sustainable production rather than Fairtrade). Some commentators have expressed surprise at the timing of these pledges, since the recession is causing great attention to spending, especially on treats and luxury goods.
However the new report, commissioned by Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO) and conducted by Globescan, indicates that huge increases in sales of Fairtrade products in a number of European countries in 2008, compared to 2007.
Even where growth has slowed down, the market has not actually shrunk.
Moreover, shifts in perception and recognition of Fairtrade mean companies pledging to act responsibly are in tune with the times.
Respondents from 15 countries, numbering some 14,500 in total, indicated that it is no longer good enough for companies to do no harm in the areas from which they source – they are also expected to fair and accountable in their dealings in developing countries.
The organisation says the market strength is down to the widespread use of the Fairtrade mark across brands, which means that consumers can seek out cheaper alternatives to products they usually buy.
“With the devastating impacts of the global recession and the credit crunch, producers need Fairtrade now more than ever,” said Rob Cameron, CEO of FLO International, who described the survey findings as “encouraging”.
Sweden saw the biggest leap in Fairtrade sales in 2008, up 75 per cent on the previous year. Finland saw 57 per cent growth, the UK 43 per cent, Denmark 40 per cent, Austria 24 per cent, France 22 per cent, and the US 10 per cent.
A complete set of figures from the survey will be available in mid May.
The survey found that 55 per cent of total respondents fell into the category ‘active ethical consumers’, showing a large potential pool of Fairtrade buyers. These shoppers were seen to have expectations over companies’ social, ethical and environmental responsibilities – and to ‘reward’ companies that meet them, and ‘punish’ those that do not with their buying decisions.
Overall 50 per cent of people were seen to be familiar with the Fairtrade certification mark (or the North American Fair Trade Certified mark) – and 91 per cent of these said they trusted it.
64 per cent said they believe Fairtrade has strict standards, and 72 per cent said they believed independent certification is the best way to verify ethical claims.
Cameron drew attention to the grassroots movement that has been key to the spread of Fairtrade awareness, as 32 per cent said they heard about Fairtrade from friends, family and work colleagues, and 16 per cent through education, community and faith groups.
“We are working with both the grassroots movement and companies to increase the market, so that more producers will benefit from the better deal that Fairtrade offers,” he said.