Greener Research

Living Wage and Fairtrade Clothing

NUS conducted research to find out what students think about the concepts of Fairtrade and Living Wage - what they think it means and how they think it applies to clothing. 

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Background information

Fairtrade certification primarily focuses on and addresses the problems faced by vulnerable producers of agricultural commodities such as coffee, bananas and in this case cotton.  Fairtrade is currently exploring whether and how a standard can be developed which extends the benefits fo Fairtrade certification further along the supply chain - including to those who are involved in manufacturing.  Whilst Fairtrade does ask supply chain operators for independent evidence that they are working towards recognised labour standards, responsibility remains with brands and companies to ensure these standards are being met. 

A number of organisations exist which aim to monitor and improve working conditions.  In the education sector, organisations such as the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC) works by encouraging universities and schools to become affiliates and providing them them with impartial assessments of conditions in factories that produce university branded clothing.  WRC also provides an assessment of whether these factories comply with the university's manufacturing code of conduct (the development of which is a requirement of becoming an affiliate).  The manufacturing code of conduct typically covers overtime, child labour and discrimination along with affirming workers' rights to a safe working environment, freedom of association, collective bargaining and a living wage.

With this in mind, we wanted to find out more about what students in the UK think and know about Fairtrade and Living Wage.


Research Aims

This research had the following objectives:

  • What is the current understanding amongst the student population of the concepts of Fairtrade and Living Wage?
  • What is the existing uptake of Fairtrade items?
  • What is the appetite amongst students to purchase clothing that meets both these standards?

Research approach

An online survey was distributed during January 2012, which 1400 students completed.  76% of respondents were female.  We also had relatively high levels of response from mature students.


  • Over 75% of respondents thought that the Fairtrade assurances extended to factory workers as well as growers and farmworkers.
  • The vast majority (91.6%) also thought that the Fairtrade standard guaranteed factory workers involved in clothing manufacturing a living wage.
  • 86% were aware of the availability of Fairtrade clothing products, but awareness is highest for coffee and chocolate Fairtrade products (97% and 96% respectively).  Coffee, tea, fresh fruit and chocolate are the most frequesntly purchased Fairtrade items.
  • 89% say they buy Fairtrade products at a supermarket, compared to just 25% reporting purchasing Fairtrade at their students' union shop.  This highlights a possible lack of awareness of the availability of Fairtrade items at their university. 
  • Barriers to purchasing Fairtrade products include a lack of availability and a perception that products are too expensive however just over half of respondents stated that they make environmental and ethical considerations when deciding what to purchase. 
  • Of the 40% that had bought clothing from their students' union, 35% made the purchase for memorabilia and 37% bought university clothing for everyday wear.

For more information about the research, please contact Rachel Drayson, Environmental Researcher.