Forever fair trade

I always thought that people who buy Fairtrade products do so out of a sense of ethical consumerism. Although partly correct, I feel I need to do a little more digging to establish why. Thankfully, Kingston University has come to my aid.

In a study looking at how personality influences perceptions and behaviours around Fairtrade, it was found that personality traits influence whether we shop Fairtrade.

An ethical consumer behaviour and sustainability expert at the university, Dr Smirti Kutaula found that people with one of three personality traits are more likely to support the Fairtrade concept. 

The findings of the study, published in The Journal of Business Research, revealed that individuals who are extraverted, agreeable, or conscientious are more likely to support fair trade and more likely to share their beliefs around supporting the fair trade ethos with their family and friends, as well as recommending products.

Those with the agreeableness trait were aware of the impact of their consumption on producers and workers down the supply chain and those with the consciousness trait felt strongly that they had an individual responsibility to help protect the environment when consuming Fairtrade products.

The research revealed that having the openness personality trait does not have any significant impact on fair trade engagement, while neuroticism has a negative effect.

“We found that interviewees who exhibited the openness trait were more curious to experiment and try out different products, rather than focusing on fair trade products. While openness means you are honest about whether you behave ethically or not, it might not necessarily lead to ethical behaviour,” Dr Kutaula explained.

I would certainly fall into this category. 

The researchers also discovered that people who displayed high levels of Fairtrade engagement were more ethically conscious in their decision making and consumption choices relating to the circular economy.

“They had an increased understanding of how wider sustainability issues are linked with fair trade,” Dr Kutaula said. “They recognised that Fairtrade products are produced in a way that is not harmful to the environment and that these products use packaging which can be widely recycled, reused, or repurposed.”

As Dr Kutaula stressed, such findings highlight it may pay to market fair trade products in conjunction with the circular economy rather than treating them as separate issues.

“Fair trade is also increasingly linked with economic and environmental aspects of sustainability and our research shows that these issues feed into consumers’ decisions to support Fairtrade and buy fair trade products.”

It would seem the extraverts have it (again!). 

Dr Kutaula said companies producing and selling fair trade products could explore ways to target the personality traits of extraversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. 

People now expect businesses to take their social and environmental responsibilities seriously. So, it’s clear that a significant segment of the public is willing to back Fairtrade’s principles. Consumers associate Fairtrade with fair prices, living income, good conditions, and support for farmers in developing countries. Shoppers are prepared to reward companies that do the right thing through their purchasing behaviour. Get the messaging correct and you’re in with a shot at a very vocal consumer.

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