SACHA | Fairtrade focus for a new generation

Social media influencers and fair trade filters on online shopping sites could play an important part in opening up greater awareness – and increasing purchases – of Fair Trade products among a younger generation, students from the University of Edinburgh have suggested.

THE Fairtrade mark, which shows that the producers of imported goods are being treated well and paid fairly, has been part of the ethical consumer’s world since the first certified products appeared in UK shops in the mid-1990s Those of a certain generation are well-used to the mark on coffee, chocolate bananas and other common purchases.

However, in a world where ethical certification schemes, consumer choice and organic and plant-free products have mushroomed, has the pioneering Fairtrade mark been pushed more to the fringes? Research suggests most regular buyers of Fairtrade products are middle-aged and that the mark has not cut through significantly to a younger generation.

Students taking part in the University of Edinburgh’s Students As Change Agents (Sacha) summer programme thought that a greater social media presence – and the potential use of Instagram influencers – could play a part in addressing this. 

They also identified Fairtrade filters on online shopping sites as another way to make a very practical difference. 

In addition, the students thought that interactive maps and QR codes could be deployed to inform potential customers where they could find fair trade products – and also find out more about the story behind those goods.

Three Sacha teams – made up of young people studying a wide variety of subjects and from across the world – were asked, as part of a fast-paced, month-long project: How can Scotland move beyond awareness raising and have the fair trade concept instilled in public consciousness and buying practices?

They saw an opportunity for Fairtrade to take advantage of a more ethical approach to shopping to try to understand why certain groups of consumers, including the younger generation, clearly shared Fairtrade values but were still not buying its products in large numbers.

One challenge identified was a drop of more than 20% in the number of consumers willing to pay more for a fair trade product of equal quality to non-fair trade products. FairTrade certification was not always a match for price, quality and brand trust, the teams suggested.

They highlighted two data-points of a 2019 survey by the Scottish Fairtrade Forum were of particular interest – the high level of awareness of fair trade (in excess of 90%), but the low level of willingness to pay the extra that Fair Trade costs. A separate 2020 survey showed that 37% of people did not know whether they were buying FairTrade products.

Firm focus on social media 

The students noted that there are 53 million social media users in the UK and that 54% of the entire global population is using social media in some form – and that these numbers will continue to rise. 

Twitter and Instagram were seen as the most appropriate outlets for getting across Fairtrade messages, with a potential role for social media influencers, especially on Instagram. The group was confident that there would be influencers who shared fair trade values and who would do this for free, to tap into the online ethical consumer community. 

This idea was built on later by one of the group who said that younger people tended not to want to take a ‘deep internet dive’ into what Fairtrade was all about, but preferred it to be summarised and explained simply through the social media channels they used.

It was also suggested that there could be more effort to push fair trade products on TV cooking shows like The Great British Bake-Off and at high-profile fashion events.

Product placement and FairTrade filters

The group also believed that Fairtrade had to increase its product placement visibility, in both small and large shops – and in both physical and virtual locations. 

Suggested approaches included riding the wave of ‘buying local’ which was such a major factor early in the pandemic, and trying to increase the availability of FairTrade products in more local shops, and signposting this more effectively. 

In addition, Fairtrade filters on online shopping sites, and the improved tagging of Fairtrade products – particularly by larger supermarkets – could make a real impact. This would allow consumers to search for Fairtrade in the same way as they do for vegan or gluten-free products, in an era where so many more people are now shopping online as the norm. 

The potential for a Fairtrade rewards scheme, potentially linked to large retailers’ own sophisticated schemes, was also discussed 

One of the students said: “We hope that by making it easier to find fair trade online, buying Fairtrade will become a habit for consumers who shop online.

Using technology to share the Fairtrade story   

Like online shopping and buying local, scanning QR codes has become much more mainstream during the Covid-19 pandemic – especially in hospitality venues.

The student groups saw this as another opportunity to raise awareness (and purchasing) of Fairtrade products, by using QR codes in tandem with an interactive map.

The Fairtrade map – which would be made available physically, but primarily digitally – woud support those who already stock Fairtrade products by showing their location. Students said that their peers should be encouraged to become champions of Fairtrade and add to the map-app if they knew of outlets selling Fairtrade products that were not included. 

They said the app would also provide links to where products originated and where the money they were paying went – telling human stories could be really effective, they thought. 

The students felt that while Fairtrade was very closely associated with fair pay, some of its wider work with producers was not so well-known. Presenting the bigger picture in a simple way would “encourage consumers to get the right information to empower them to make the right choices about Fairtrade goods”, the students said.

The map-app should be gamified, to encourage younger people to ‘collect’ Fairtrade outlets and could potentially be quite cartoonish in its style, the students suggested.

Putting recommendations into practice

Each group produced a report containing their recommendations for their project partner, the Fairtrade Scotland Forum. They presented their findings in short videos, which were shown during an online feedback session, taking questions from Fairtrade representatives.

Russell Salton, of the Edinburgh Fair Trade Group), said: “I liked the way that the groups wanted to move away from ‘fair’ as an abstract and look at the real tangible benefits of what we do.”

Joanna Pollard, Chair of the Fairtrade National Campaign Committee, praised the students for coming up with a wide range of creative ideas and added: “Making it easier to find Fairtrade products on online shopping channels is probably No 1 for me.”

Al Lawley-Powell, who leads the Sacha project, said: “I’ve been blown away by the commitment, passion and energy of the teams. This is the kind of supportive programme that young people have really needed in the last year.” He said the work done in less than four weeks had been “phenomenal” and that all the groups’ work complemented each other. “These are all scalable ideas – not just in Edinburgh, but beyond. There is a key theme of getting back to the basics of why Fairtrade really matters and that is so important for reaching a wider audience.

By David Lee


Find out more about the Students as change agents (SACHA) programme.

Read the final report.


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