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Fair trade finding new markets in developing countries as India's shoppers outstrip UK consumers in demand for ethical products, Kingston University research reveals

Posted Friday 25 October 2019

Fair trade finding new markets in developing countries as India's shoppers outstrip UK consumers in demand for ethical products, Kingston University research reveals

Consumers in India are more engaged with the fair trade agenda and buy more ethically produced goods than their counterparts in the United Kingdom, driven largely by their closer proximity to marginalised producers, according to new research from Kingston University in London.

Dr Smirti Kutaula, an ethical consumer behaviour and sustainability expert at Kingston Business School, examined perceptions of fair trade and buying behaviour in the two countries. As part of the research, the team investigated whether being physically, socially or psychologically closer to fair trade producers had an impact on consumers' purchasing.

Fair trade is a global movement focusing on better prices and working conditions, local sustainability and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world. In one of the first studies to compare consumer behaviour in a developing and an established economy, Dr Kutaula and her colleagues from the University of Surrey, University of Cyprus and Cyprus University of Technology surveyed more than 300 people in India and Britain.

"Shoppers worldwide are becoming increasingly aware of the social, economic and environmental consequences of their consumption and are modifying their behaviour accordingly," Dr Kutaula said. "We found physical, social or psychological proximity to marginalised producers had a significant impact on empathy and affinity with the fair trade agenda - and this, in turn, influenced buying behaviour."

The research findings were particularly interesting given that fair trade products had only been available in India since 2013, Dr Kutaula said. "Until now it has largely been perceived that fair trade producers are in the global south and the consumers are in the global north. However, this research highlights the growing consumer markets in developing countries, where people who can relate more easily to the lives of marginalised producers and the challenges they face have a stronger pull to fair trade produce."

Dr Kutaula and her colleagues have presented their research at the 79th annual meeting of the Academy of Management in Boston, USA. They were one of five finalists in the Carolyn Dexter Award for best international paper. The research has just been published in the leading business ethics journal Journal of Business Ethics. This journal is one of the FT 50 journals, thus impacting the Business School research rankings.

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