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4th September 2015

Fair Trade products loosen purse strings

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Researchers at the University of Bonn found that participants in an experiment were happy to fork out on average 30 per cent extra for ethically produced goods, compared with their conventionally produced counterparts.

The neuroscientists analyzed the neural pathways involved in processing products with a Fair Trade emblem. They identified a potential mechanism that explains why Fair Trade products are evaluated more positively. For instance, activity in the brain’s reward centre increases. The study results have been published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.

The Fair Trade logo, which was launched in 2003, is found on a wide variety of products including coffee, bananas, creams, wine bottles and even footballs. For the study, test subjects lay in a brain scanner and bid on various food products. Each of these products was available in two versions – Fair Trade or conventionally produced.

Part of the frontal lobe of the brain ultimately calculates our willingness to spend, in an area known as the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, (vmPFC), explained Prof Bernd Weber, a neuroscientist at the University of Bonn.

“The higher the activity in the vmPFC, the more money subjects were willing to pay. The scanner data suggests that the vmPFC integrates information from other brain areas and uses this information to calculate an overall value. Based on information from various regions, it reaches a decision: would I pay 50 cents for the Fair Frade banana? Or just 30 cents?” he added.

Food labelled with Fair Trade logos also seemed to taste better. In a second experiment, participants sampled two pieces of chocolate, declared as coming from either Fair Trade or conventional production. Participants then rated the product’s palatability. The piece of chocolate labelled with a Fair Trade emblem received superior taste evaluations.

“Pure imagination,” said the study’s lead author Laura Enax. “Both pieces of chocolate were actually identical.”