BUSINESSES don't have to exploit workers and the environment if they want to bring in real profits ? that's the message from Equal Exchange, one of the country's longest-running Fairtrade businesses.
With an annual turnover now topping £ 1 million, Edinburgh-based Equal Exchange is a key contributor to the current boom in the UK's organic and Fairtrade food markets, where growth is running at over 50 per cent a year.
According to the Fairtrade Foundation, shoppers spent over £ 63 million at the checkout on Fairtrade foods in 2002.
Sam Roger at Equal Exchange explained: "Organic and fairly traded foods have been making real inroads into the mainstream over the past few years, thanks to changing consumer concerns and increasing support from major supermarkets.
"Recent surveys show that over a third of British consumers are concerned about the ethical records of the companies that they buy from. As a result, shoppers are becoming increasingly active in rewarding businesses willing to take the risk and provide ethical and sustainable products."
Added Ms Roger: "We've also been finding that customers are prepared to pay a little more for ethical products if they can see benefits for themselves as well as for farmers in the developing world.
"For instance, they tend to view organic food and free-range eggs as much healthier products, and Fairtrade coffee as being of higher quality."
Equal Exchange co-op, a member of Co-operatives UK, offers Britain's widest range of Fairtrade and organic coffee, tea, cocoa, honey, nut butters, sugar and confectionery.
All Equal Exchange products are fairly traded, and most are also organic. Products are supplied by farming families in countries including Peru, Mexico, Colombia, Ghana, Ethiopia, South Africa and India.
A MORI poll commissioned recently by the Fairtrade Foundation revealed that one in four of the UK population now recognises the Fairtrade Mark.
Equal Exchange began in 1979, when three voluntary workers returned to Edinburgh after working on aid projects in Africa.