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British shoppers lead world in fair trade

From Juliet Mann, CNN
March 22, 2012 -- Updated 1750 GMT (0150 HKT)
  • The United Kingdom is the world's biggest market for fair trade produce
  • Sales of fair trade goods increased by 12% from 2010 to 2011
  • The growth in fair trade is significant in a struggling retail sector
  • Awareness of fair trade principles in the UK is almost double that of Europe

London (CNN) -- In an environment of declining retail sales in the United Kingdom, one premium brand is bucking the trend as consumers vote with their consciences.

Sales of ethically produced, fair trade products in the UK increased by 12% from 2010 to 2011, accounting for £1.3 billion ($2.07 billion).

While just 0.01% of food and drink sales worldwide are certified fair trade, in the United Kingdom, the world's biggest fair trade market, ethically sourced produce is big business.

Supermarket shelves teem with fair trade products from all corners of the globe, as the British consume 9.7 million cups of fair trade tea, 6.4 millions cups fair trade coffee and 3.2 million fair trade bananas every day.

Fair trade involves retailers paying a premium to suppliers in developing countries.

"It's about investment to be fair to everyone in the supply chain," says Brad Hill, fair trade director for The Co-operative, whose supermarket wing has recently moved to stock exclusively fair trade bananas.

Through fair trade, we have been able to develop our community
Demetrio Gonzales, banana grower, Panama

While consumers in the United Kingdom pay a marginal premium, if any, for ethically sourced produce, the practice can make a real difference at the source of production. Demetrio Gonzales, a banana grower from Panama, says his community was barely covering the costs of production before the introduction of fair trade.

"Through fair trade, we have been able to develop our community with investments in our water supply, and ways to improve our living conditions," he said.

British consumers' rush to embrace fair trade products seems tied to widespread public awareness of fair trade principles. According to Hill, 96% of British consumers were aware of fair trade, compared to just 47% in other parts of Europe. "There is potential for Europe to catch up with the UK in fair trade," he said. "It's all about increasing awareness."

And, to a growing extent, popular consumer brands are taking the lead themselves. Popular chocolate goods such as Cadbury's Dairy Milk, Maltesers and Kit Kat are now fair trade, while ice cream producers Ben and Jerry's will switch to exclusively fair trade ingredients this year.

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