"Generation Fairtrade": UK teens want bosses to act more ethically

14 October 2014 -


Business leaders should be more aware of what the lucrative, youth demographic expects of them, survey suggests

Jermaine Haughton

British teenagers expect firms to offer ethical products and services, while preventing environmental abuse and the exploitation of foreign workers, according to a survey commissioned by the Fairtrade Foundation. Dubbed “Generation Fairtrade” – because they have grown up with the Fairtrade symbol (see above) which turns 20 this week – the UK’s teenage population is dominated by an 82% share who feel that companies should act more responsibly.

Far from living up to the apathetic and narcissistic stereotype of teenagers that is often portrayed in the media, teenagers say they are keenly aware of the plights suffered by societies worldwide – from poverty to child labour – as well as the responsibility that companies have to trade ethically. Up to 90% of the study’s respondents said they are willing to take action on issues they care about, with purchasing ethical products being the most popular course of action.

Last year, UK shoppers bought an estimated £1.7bn of Fairtrade goods, which resulted in more than £26m of Fairtrade Premiums being issued to the original producers. At present, around 1.4m farmers and workers in more than 70 developing countries benefit from the Premiums.

Fairtrade Foundation chief executive Michael Gidney said: “From fast fashion to constant upgrades to their smartphones, you might be forgiven for thinking that today’s teens only care about a product's price tag and whether it looks cool enough to be Instagrammed. But ‘Generation Fairtrade’ also cares deeply about some of the biggest global issues that we face.”

He added: “They have grown up with Fairtrade products at home, and may even have attended one of the UK’s 1,000 Fairtrade schools – so they are aware that by taking a simple action such as buying Fairtrade or signing an online petition, they can persuade businesses and governments to act more ethically – and the good news for all of us is that they want to use their power to change the world for the better.”

However, businesses have a lot of work to do to gain the trust of UK teens. While the respondents clearly have high expectations, fewer than half (45%) said that they trust companies to behave ethically. In fact, just 10% of the survey’s respondents believe that governments and companies will improve conditions in the future, to an extent where the Fairtrade movement will no longer be needed. What little trust teens actually have in corporations has been partly cultivated by ethical certification schemes, which provide independent assurance that products have been sourced in an ethical or sustainable way.

Almost all of the teens surveyed (97%) said that they see the Fairtrade symbol sometimes or often. And there are signs that, as they get older, find jobs and assume control of how they earn and spend, the purchasing of ethical products is set to rise. Almost two-thirds (62%) of respondents said they would like to see more Fairtrade goods at home, and three-quarters said they wanted to buy larger numbers of ethical and sustainable products. More than half (55%) think that more people will demand Fairtrade goods in the future, and that the variety will increase. This suggests that business opportunities for entrepreneurs with Fairtrade links will only increase in the years ahead.

Caroline Holme – director of GlobeScan, who carried out the research – said: “Young people are just as switched on to global issues as older generations, and we see a similar gap in perceptions between trust and expectations of companies. The number of thoughtful answers to unprompted questions far exceeded what we typically see in online surveys. Young people are highly engaged and they want to have a say on the role of companies and organisations like Fairtrade as they step into adulthood.”

Read this CMI blog about the ethical problems posed by robotic managers.

Image of Fairtrade symbol courtesy of Thinglass / Shutterstock.

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