EU/UK & US Show Differences In Fair Trade Awareness


EU/UK & US show differences in Fair Trade awareness.  As places like Chicago & San Francisco lead the way in fair trade awareness for people living in the U.S., it lags behind the U.K. substantially.

There are significant differences today in the level of fair trade awareness and activities between the US and Europe. Fair trade re­ally took off in the 1980s in Europe, where awareness of FT is now very high. This is es­pecially true in the United Kingdom, where retailers like Marks and Spencers, and food producers like Cadburys (chocolate) and Tate & Lyle (sugar) have publicly signed on to the FLO-based certification system. Cadburys and Tate & Lyle have declared that they will be 100% fair trade in the near future.

The Fair Trade Towns movement also started in Garstang, in the north of England, and there are now 462 FT towns that endorse and publicize fair trade products. By contrast there are only around 25 in the USA, but the movement is growing in momentum, and the number includes San Francisco, Boston and Chicago.

The key difference between the US and UK/Europe was the timing of the launch of fair trade. In many European countries there are wide networks of FT retailers (over 4000 EU outlets) and very high levels of market share for FT products. Oxfam in the UK was found­ed in 1958 as Oxford Famine Relief, and they opened the first World Store for fair trade products in 1969. For example 60% of the bananas sold in Switzerland are FT, and al­most 50% of the coffee in the UK is FT. Prod­ucts like flowers, rice, and honey are widely available in the mainstream retail stores.

In the US, the competing ethical concepts of Organic – Green – Sustainable – Ethical etc. were all established before the concept of “fair trade”. Thus in terms of mindshare, there is more confusion and less understand­ing about fair trade than in Europe. Fair trade as a concept has a struggle in the US market, and consequently is less developed.

The level of expenditures on fair trade items is estimated to be around $1 billion in both the US and the UK, so per capita four times more in the UK. More than 80% of the total is account­ed for by food and commodities, leav­ing crafts as the “poor relation” with a fragmentation of revenues across the various producer organizations. (Typically only 10-20% of the retail price gets back to the farmer/artisan.) FT revenues continue to grow strongly, with around 20-25% annual growth in FT sales, although there have been adverse impacts from the global recession (but not in online sales).  We hope you were able to pull some quality insight into “fair trade” practices & what it means for for all of us.  This is the 4th and final installment of this series for now, but we will continue to cover more about it in the future.


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