Retailers go Fairtrade as ethical consumer market grows

LONDON - High-profile brands, including Marks & Spencer, Virgin Trains and Sainsbury's, are plugging into the trend for 'conviction buying' and launching a raft of initiatives to coincide with Fairtrade Fortnight.

M&S today becomes the first high-street retailer to sell own brand Fairtrade-certified cotton products, including T-shirts and socks. This cotton only became available to the UK in November 2005. M&S also plans to change all its tea and coffee to fair trade and will reveal other products during Fairtrade Fortnight.

Consumers are already buying £200m worth of products carrying the Fairtrade symbol a year, according to ethical trading body the Fairtrade Foundation. More than 1,500 such products are available, compared with 850 last year.

Looking beyond Fairtrade-marked products, the market for ethical consumption is booming. A new survey by the Fraser Consultancy reveals 70% of women and 69% of 18- to 34-year-olds plan to buy more Fairtrade and ethical products in the next 12 months. It found 75% of women say they have bought them in the past.

Fairtrade products are expected to receive an additional fillip from publicity around the foundation's two-week "Make Fairtrade Your Habit" campaign that kicks off today.

As well as M&S, Virgin Trains and Sainsbury's Waitrose, fashion retailers Oasis and Arcadia-owned Topshop and American Express are also among big names making moves to embrace Fairtrade. 

New research carried out for the Fairtrade Foundation by TNS Omnimas shows lack of visibility is the biggest reason why UK consumers do not buy more Fairtrade products.

One in five of those asked said they were not yet "in the habit" of buying Fairtrade products -- inspiring the theme of the fortnight's promotion. Only 3% said they did not buy more because they disagreed or were not convinced by the idea of Fairtrade. Overall, 40% of shoppers have bought Fairtrade goods at some time.

Sainsbury's, which claims to be the UK's biggest Fairtrade retailer, is to launch Fairtrade cotton Sport Relief charity T-shirts in its stores in late May. The retailer aims to increase its Fairtrade sales by 50% this year.

Oasis and Topshop will also be selling Fairtrade-certified cotton from April and May respectively.

Virgin Trains is to switch all tea, coffee, hot chocolate, sugar and chocolate sprinkles on board its trains to Fairtrade and will bring Fairtrade to its executive lounges in several rail stations.

American Express last week launched American Express Red, a credit card that will help raise funds for Product (RED), the brand launched by Bono that will donate money to the Global Fund to help women and children with Aids. Converse, Gap and Giorgio Armani will also launch products under the (RED) banner.

Backing the campaign is an exhibition in London's Oxo Tower of black-and-white celebrity photographs taken by photographer Trevor Leighton. The pictures of stars such as comedian Vic Reeves and actress Amanda Burton having fun with Fairtrade products aim to highlight the importance of buying ethically.

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