Trade for Development Centre is a programme of Enabel, the Belgian development agency.

2020 barometer on fair trade

Every two years, the Trade for Development Centre publishes a barometer on fair trade, a survey that aims to present the awareness of fair trade in Belgium and the opinion and behaviour of Belgians on this topic. This year, questions were asked about changes in purchasing behaviour in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

This year’s barometer was conducted by Incidence on behalf of the Trade for Development Centre. The online survey was carried out between 30 June and 2 August 2020 and involved 1,212 Belgian residents aged 16 to 80 years old. The maximum margin of error for this sample is 2.8%.

Some observations

  • Shifts in the selection criteria during the crisis, followed by good intentions.
    For more than half of Belgians (52%), the COVID-19 crisis has had an impact on their purchasing selection criteria; and especially when it comes to buying food products. We see the biggest shift among those living in Brussels (21% say they have significantly changed their selection criteria). During the health crisis, Belgians paid more attention to the price, how locally the product was produced and how healthy the products they bought were. Overall, Belgians are more likely to keep these new selection criteria in the future (20% are very certain and 60% very likely to keep their new selection criteria). However, these results must be interpreted with caution, as the facts seem to paint a different picture. Since the lockdown was lifted, we see a significant drop in sales within the short supply chain.
  • Most of the respondents agree that they will have to change the way they consume (69%). It is mainly the young people who think that (75% versus 65% of the over-55s) as well as the respondents with a high level of education (78% versus 60% of the low-skilled).
  • Responsible consumption is mainly linked to notions of environmental friendliness: less packaging and waste (for 42% of the respondents), recycling (36%), reuse (34%) and the consumption of local products (34%). Much less often associated with responsible consumption are: the consumption of ecological products (17%), fair trade products (16%), organic products (10%) and ethical products (8%).
  • The brand awareness of fair trade has decreased slightly: 86% in 2020, compared to 90% in 2018 and 92% in 2016*.
    • Aided brand awareness is significantly better among Dutch speakers than French speakers (88% and 84% respectively); even though the decline is more pronounced among Dutch speakers. The higher the level of education, the better the aided brand awareness.
    • Awareness helped by the definition has remained stable in the last three measurements (93%): the score is always higher among Dutch-speakers than French-speakers (95% and 90% respectively).
    • The definition of fair trade still corresponds well with the perception of the respondents (82%): it is the most educated that had the best perception of the notion of fair trade (90%).
  • On average, Belgians can name 5.6 different fair trade products. It is the youngest (6 different products) and the most educated (6.4) who can name the highest number of different products. Coffee, chocolate and bananas remain the three best-known fair trade products. It is mainly the older age group who equate fair trade with coffee (it is very clearly the best-known product).
  • 69% of the respondents indicate that they buy fair trade products (50% rarely and 19% often). 9% of the respondents say they buy fair trade products at least once a week. 15% of Belgians never consume fair trade products and 15% do not really give it a lot of thought and cannot comment on it. It is the French speakers, the oldest age group and the less educated who are more likely to be unaware of whether or not they buy fair trade products (19%, 18% and 24% respectively).
  • These types of products are mainly bought in supermarkets (59%). Purchases in specialist fair trade shops are made more frequently by Dutch speakers than by French speakers (42% versus 24%). Fair trade products are recognised as such by their labels and certificates for more than half of the respondents (56%).
  • Belgians more or less agree that fair trade should not be limited to producers from the South (73%). Especially in Wallonia, among the highly educated and in rural areas, it is felt that fair trade should also concern Belgian and European farmers.
  • Belgians are very aware of the role they play in the development of fairer trade. Yet they do not feel that they are the only ones responsible for this. The Dutch speakers believe that the government in particular has a role to play; French speakers meanwhile primarily point to the consumer. For the least educated, it is mainly the manufacturers who are responsible for the development of fair trade.
  • 65% of the respondents think it is quite important to be able to buy fair trade products, especially the older respondents (69%) and respondents with a high level of education (72%)… But this is not the most important aspect for the respondents. When asked to rank 5 product types (fair trade, local, organic, ecological and ethical) according to the importance they attach to them, local products are clearly the most important according to all groups (40% of the respondents versus 21% for fair trade products). The type of product ranked second strongly depends on the profile of the respondent: the youngest particularly favour ecological products (22%), the inhabitants of Brussels organic products (27%), the Flemish and the oldest group fair trade products (29% and 24%).
  • The price is both the main inhibitor and trigger for the purchase of fair trade products. There are big differences depending on the purchase frequency of fair trade products among the respondents:
    • Those who do not know whether or not they buy fair trade do not know which products are fair trade and do not give it a lot of thought. They are in favour of a recognised label.
    • Those who never buy fair trade products think they are too expensive, have never tried fair trade and are less interested in it (it is worth noting that 22% believe that there is nothing that could encourage them to buy fair trade products).
    • Those who rarely buy fair trade products think that the selection is too limited.
    • Those who already regularly buy fair trade products want a guarantee that the purchase of these products really has an impact.
  • Among the respondents who buy fair trade products, product satisfaction is excellent, with 65% of customers very satisfied; the satisfaction score is also very high.
  • Most Belgians are willing to pay a little more for a fair trade product. However, this should not be more than 10% of the normal price.
  • On the other hand, the respondents are not convinced that an individual personally contributes much to respecting the rights of producers and workers by purchasing fair trade products. It is the less educated who estimate their personal contribution the highest (19%).

Two recommendations to highlight

  • The analysis of the barriers and triggers for buying fair trade products shows that the criteria differ according to the purchasing habits of Belgians.
    • For regular consumers: reassure them about the impact that the purchase of fair trade products really has.
    • For occasional consumers and for those who do not give it a lot of thought: inform them about the wide variety of fair trade products/improve the visibility of the labels.
  • The fact that products are local is (with 40%) much more important than the fact they are fair trade (21%) for Belgians. Furthermore, local production is more closely associated with responsible consumption for 34% of the respondents (mainly the Walloons, the oldest group and the respondents from rural areas). It is particularly important to the youngest group whether or not products are ecological (22%), to those living in Brussels whether they are organic and to the Flemish whether they are fair trade. It might be interesting to strengthen the link between fair trade and these other characteristics with targeted communication towards each respondent profile.
    • There is a need to strengthen the link between local consumption and fair consumption for the entire population.
    • Communication is needed towards young people about the ecological aspect of fair trade products, and towards those living in Brussels about the organic aspect.
* For your information, we repeat the comparisons with the previous barometric waves here. The samples of the various barometer surveys are representative of the Belgian population. The global questionnaires differed between the barometer surveys, but the questions that the comparisons relate to were completely identical. However, this point should be taken into account and comparisons should therefore be interpreted with caution.

Full report (Dutch)

2020 barometer on fair trade


2020 barometer on fair trade

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