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We’re all ethical shoppers right? Well not quite. New research shows 78 per cent of us base our purchasing decisions mainly on price.

The EY research supports many previous studies of this nature which suggest that while many people talk a good game on ethics and sustainability, they are not so keen on paying a little extra for products which are ethically made or sustainably sourced.

The study found over two-thirds of UK consumers (68 per cent) class ethical behaviour as important when shopping, citing good treatment of employees (79 per cent), ethical supply chains (76 per cent) and treatment of workers and animals (50 per cent) as ‘critical’ to their decision-making.

Yet paradoxically, ethically sourced produce only comes in the top three purchase considerations for seven per cent of UK consumers.

Only 53 per cent of UK consumers would be happy to pay more for products which are ethically sourced, and cost is the largest barrier to buying sustainable or ethically sourced produce, according to the research, with 52 per cent not spending sustainably due to the costs associated, and a further 25 per cent saying they cannot afford sustainable or eco products.

There is nothing particularly new or surprising in these findings but they do serve to reinforce a very important point: if sustainable fashion is to become mainstream, it has to be at the same or a similar price point to its conventional counterpart. It might cost more to use organic cotton or to source from reputable factories or to use recycled rather than virgin polyester. So be it. These are costs the major fashion retailers and their supply chains need to absorb if they are genuine about making sustainability mainstream (which major apparel brands repeatedly say they are).

Helen Merriott, partner and retail and consumer products Leader for UK & Ireland at EY, reinforces the point: “The great British consumer sees themselves as an ethical shopper – and while it’s clear that the will is there to shop ethically, the way is blocked by the higher relative prices of ethical goods.

“Price and availability are the key barriers to shopping more sustainably – retailers and manufacturers need to think about how they can get more ethical options onto shelves at a price point that’s much closer to ‘normal’ goods.”

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