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

Brussels residents and fair trade

Between 30 June and 2 August 2020, Incidence, on behalf of Enabel’s Trade for Development Centre, carried out the 2020 edition of the fair trade barometer, a survey that aims to assess the awareness of fair trade in Belgium and the opinion and behaviour of Belgians in this area.

In 2020, questions were asked about changes in buying behaviour as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. The online survey was conducted among 1,212 people, aged 16-80, living in Belgium. The maximum margin of error for this sample size is 2.8%.

What are the observations among residents of the Brussels-Capital Region (1). The sample consists of 294 people and the maximum margin of error is 5.7%.

  • Health, pollution and purchasing power were the three most troubling topics for Brussels residents in 2020.
  • Most of the Brussels respondents (69%) agree that we will have to change our consumption habits for the sake of future generations. 72% of respondents from Wallonia and 67% of the Flemish respondents share this opinion. Brussels residents are also determined to do so, as 48% of them have chosen to eat less meat.
  • Just like residents of Wallonia (63%), they are also more aware of the conditions under which certain products are manufactured (66%) than their Flemish neighbours (55%). Residents of Brussels (63%) and Wallonia (64%) are also more convinced than the Flemish (50%) that what they buy has an effect on the environment and the living standards of producers/workers.
  • On the other hand, Brussels residents (53%), just like the Flemish (53%), believe that product labels are useful for quickly finding out more about the products they want to buy. For people in Wallonia, this is only 44%.

Purchase criteria for fair trade products

  • For Brussels residents, the most important criteria when purchasing food products are mainly the price (30%), how healthy it is (18%) and the qualitative aspects specific to the product (17%). Residents of Brussels and Wallonia more often opt for products without GMOs (15%) than the Flemish (7%). As far as cosmetics are concerned, residents of Brussels are less sensitive to the price (26%) than the respondents in Flanders (41%) and Wallonia (35%).
  • When buying cosmetics, beauty and care products, the most important selection criteria for Brussels residents are: the price (26%), the respect for animal welfare (17%), how healthy the products are (16%) and the absence of chemicals products and pesticides (16%). Brussels residents (26%) are less sensitive to the price than those in Wallonia (35%) and Flanders (41%).
  • When shopping for clothes, Brussels residents mainly take into account the criteria of price, product durability and respect for human rights.
  • During the crisis, there has been a shift in purchase selection criteria, and one that 77% of the Brussels respondents are willing to keep.
    The COVID-19 crisis has had an impact on purchase selection criteria for 57% of the Brussels respondents (21% say that this impact has been strong), mainly for food products (86%, compared to 73% for the Flemish). According to all Belgian residents, it is the food sector that has felt the impact of the crisis most severely.
  • During the first wave of the crisis, Belgians paid particular attention to the price, how healthy the product was, and how locally the product was produced. 27% of Brussels residents are determined to keep their new selection criteria after the COVID-19 crisis.

Responsible consumption

  • Responsible consumption is mainly linked to ecological aspects. According to Brussels respondents, responsible consumption is mainly characterised by the purchase of products without packaging (42%), seasonal products (34%) and by the use of recycling and reuse (31%). It is mainly residents of Brussels (19%, compared to 18% in Flanders and 11% in Wallonia) who associate the concept of responsible consumption with the purchase of organic products. 28% (30% of the Flemish) make a link between the purchase of local products from the short chain, compared to 44% of people in Wallonia. And only 15% of Brussels residents (14% in Wallonia and 17% in Flanders) connect responsible consumption to the purchase of fair trade products.
  • If we ask Brussels consumers to rank these 5 product types: local, fair trade, organic, ecological and ethical, according to the importance they place on them, the local products come first (36%), followed by the organic products (27%) and ecological products (18%). The fair trade (13%) and ethical (7%) products are at the bottom of the list. It is interesting to note that fair trade products were ranked second by Flemish respondents (29%).

Awareness of fair trade

  • Awareness of fair trade is good. 84% of Brussels residents have heard of fair trade. 43% of Brussels residents (compared to 33% of people in Wallonia) were able, without being prompted, to name the brand Oxfam as one of the fair trade brands, labels and/or organisations. 22% mentioned Fairtrade (compared to 31% of the Flemish). 16% of Brussels residents have never heard of fair trade.
    On the other hand, if a series of brands, labels and logos of fair trade, ethical, sustainable trade or organic farming are shown to respondents, the Fairtrade label is the one that is most often recognised, by residents of Brussels (56% of respondents), Flanders (72%) and Wallonia (57%), immediately followed by the logo of Oxfam-Magasins du monde or Oxfam-Wereldwinkels (recognised by 54% of the residents of Brussels, 63% Flanders and 56% Wallonia).
    Brussels respondents have heard of fair trade via the labels (19%) or in a TV report (19%). In contrast to 31% of the Flemish, 18% of them have come across it in supermarkets.
  • The definition of fair trade is still in line with the perception that the Brussels respondents have of it (79%)
  • Respect for producers (48%), products with respect for the environment (32%) and a fair price (16%) are the 3 characteristics of fair trade that are most often listed unprompted by the people of Brussels, Flanders and Wallonia.
  • When Brussels respondents are presented with different characteristics, respect for human rights and a fair wage that gives producers decent living standards then become the most important characteristics of fair trade.
    It is important to emphasise that Brussels respondents indicate the GMO-free nature of fair trade products, and the fact that they are ‘cheap’, more often than respondents in Wallonia and Flanders.

  • Brussels residents can name an average of 5.5 fair trade products: coffee, chocolate and bananas are the best-known products.

  • Fair Trade Week is less well known in Brussels (39% of the respondents have heard of it) than in Flanders (49%). 42% of people in Wallonia have heard of it.
    12% of Brussels residents (9% in Flanders and 10% in Wallonia) say they have already taken part in an event organised during this campaign.

  • Who should educate the Belgian population about fair trade? All Belgians believe that this is the role of the fair trade organisations.
    However, residents of Brussels and Wallonia also want more information from traditional media (TV, press), in contrast to the Flemish, who consider this to be the government’s responsibility.
    Brussels residents and the respondents with a higher level of education would also like to be made more aware via presentations and tastings in shops. The demand for raising awareness among young people in schools is also more pronounced in Brussels and among respondents with a higher level of education.

  • In Brussels, the respondents believe that product distributors are the main people responsible for the development of fair trade, while in the north of the country the government is mentioned, and in the south the product manufacturers.

  • Fair trade concerns all farmers in the world.
    It is predominantly Wallonia residents who are convinced of this, as are the highly educated and respondents from rural areas.

  • 71% of Brussels residents believe that fair trade should not be limited to farmers from the South. However, 13% think that fair trade should concern Belgian and European farmers, but only for products containing at least one ingredient from the South.

The purchase of fair trade products 

  • 71% of Brussels residents say they have bought fair trade products before (26% yes, often and 45% yes, but rarely). Only 15% of the Brussels residents surveyed never consume fair trade products and 14% do not know whether they use them or not.
  • A surcharge of 10% is acceptable
    Belgians are generally willing to pay a premium for fair trade products (especially food products), but this should not exceed 10%.
  • As with all Belgians, cocoa/chocolate (42%), coffee (37%) and bananas (35%) are also the fair trade products that Brussels residents buy the most often.
  • Brussels residents are generally satisfied with fair trade products (63%)
  • Fair trade products are most often bought in supermarkets and this applies to all Belgians (60% of Brussels residents). 34% of Brussels respondents say they also buy fair trade products in specialist shops (Oxfam-Wereldwinkels/Oxfam-Magasins du monde or other), 27% in organic shops or at small retailers and local shops.
  • Fair trade products are mainly recognised through labels and certifications (54% of Brussels residents).
  • Reasons for and against buying fair trade
    The high price (for 31% of Brussels respondents), not considering it (for 26%) or not knowing which products come from fair trade (21%) are the main reasons respondents do not buy fair trade products.
  • According to 43% of Brussels residents, a lower price would encourage them to consume more fair trade products. More information about the products (27%) or a guarantee that buying these types of products will actually have an impact are also reasons to buy.
  • Only 16% of Brussels respondents are convinced that by buying fair trade products they are making a substantial personal contribution to the respect for human rights of the producers and workers.
  • According to the Belgians, labels and certifications are the best tools to ensure that the products are really fair. Brussels residents also prefer the advice of consumers on social media to ensure that the products are reliable.
[1] For the sake of convenience, the inhabitants of the Brussels-Capital Region are often referred to as ‘Brussels residents’ in this document.

Also read

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.


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