Australian shoppers prefer ethical and Fairtrade products: study

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Shoppers are more likely to consider purchasing a product that supports a social or ethical cause, according to research into the buying habits of more than 1000 Australians.

The national study, conducted by research firm McCrindle on behalf of Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand, found eight in 10 shoppers would be more likely to purchase a product that supports someone in need over one that did not have a charitable aspect—as long as the price and quality between the two were similar.

Supporting animals or the environment also ranks highly with shoppers, with 77% of respondents saying they would be more likely to purchase a product that supports these causes. Seven in 10 Australians also said ethical products were good value for money.

Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand chief executive Molly Harriss Olson said in a statement consumers can drive change through their everyday purchases.

“Purchasing ethical products is high on the shopping list,” she said. “As a market-based system of trade which supports farmers in developing countries, we must do what we can to continue to fuel this demand from consumers.”

It has been over a year since the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh, which killed more than 1130 people and highlighted the social impacts of cheap, imported clothing. Harriss Olson said incidents such as these have increased consumer awareness and, in turn, driven the demand for ethically-sourced products.  

“Just by choosing a Fairtrade product over a non-Fairtrade product, shoppers can make a huge difference to the working standards for farmers and workers in developing countries, giving them the opportunity to improve their lives, develop their communities and plan for the future,” said Harriss Olson.

Melbourne University academic Dr Ben Neville teaches a subject on social entrepreneurship. He previously told SmartCompany consumers preferencing Fairtrade products and social enterprises over traditional products and businesses is a case of people “voting” with their wallets.

“There’s obviously been a growth in ethical and sustainable products and brands,” he said. “I think that reflects in the recognition that neither big corporations nor government are fixing the wicked problems the world has,” said Neville.

Neville said the great thing about ethical brands is that they combine business and charity models in order to create positive changes in the community.

“The social enterprise model is this really nice hybrid,” he said. “It takes the best of the business model and the best of the charity model and puts them together hopefully for the best of both worlds.”

Social entrepreneurship is one of the fastest growing sectors in the Australian economy, with the number of social enterprises increasing by 37% over the last five years.

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Broede Carmody is SmartCompany's senior reporter. Previously, he was a co-editor of RMIT University's student magazine Catalyst.

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