Why Swiss buy more Fair Trade than Germans

Swiss buy fair trade products more often than Germans. Opportunity and morality are decisive, but the difference in purchasing power is not.


Switzerland is one of the countries worldwide with the highest per capita consumption of fair trade products. However, the consumption of products for which buyers are guaranteed that producers and workers receive fair prices or wages differs markedly between societies. Our German neighbors spend comparatively little on these products. This is surprising, because Germany does not differ greatly from us in its economic and social development. The reasons for this country-specific difference were investigated by sociologists at the University of Zurich together with the Institute for Social-Ecological Research in Frankfurt. For this purpose, they surveyed around 3,900 residents of the city of Zurich and the city of Cologne and analyzed the opportunities to buy fair trade products in these cities.

Opportunity and morale are crucial

The data analysis shows that income differences are not significant for the higher level of consumption in Switzerland - although Swiss respondents have higher purchasing power on average than Germans. On the other hand, the better availability of fair trade products in stores in the city of Zurich increases consumption. And: The decisive factor is primarily the moral obligation to buy fair trade products, which is more pronounced in Switzerland: "It is primarily differences in convictions and market structure that are responsible for the higher consumption level. Differences in purchasing power do not seem to play a role," says Jörg Rössel, professor of sociology at the University of Zurich.

Behavior of Germans in Switzerland converges

However, the study authors not only examined differences between Switzerland and Germany, but also between Swiss and Germans living in Zurich. Although differences are found between Swiss and Germans who have been residents of Zurich for a short time, these disappear with increasing length of residence. "Over time, the shared social context seems to cause individuals' beliefs to converge. As a result, the consumption of fair-trade products is also identical," says Patrick Schenk, an assistant at the Institute of Sociology at the University of Zurich, interpreting this finding.

According to the authors, the fact that the surveys took place in two urban centers should not affect the reliability of the results. On the contrary, the choice of two urban areas strengthens the comparability of the study populations. For Georg Sunderer of the Institute for Social-Ecological Research, the findings "demonstrate the importance of the interplay between social context and individual beliefs when it comes to explaining country differences in the consumption of fair trade products."


Schenk, Patrick, Georg Sunderer, and Jörg Rössel. 2016. Are German-speaking Swiss more altruistic than Germans? A comparison of the consumption of fair trade products in Germany and Switzerland. Berlin Journal of Sociology:1-26. October 18, 2016. doi:10.1007/s11609-016-0312-4.


The basis for the empirical test is a standardized postal survey conducted in 2009 (Cologne) and 2011 (Zurich). The participants were people from a random sample of residents of Cologne and Zurich, with only people with German citizenship being surveyed in Cologne and people with Swiss and German citizenship in Zurich. Around 37 and 42 percent of the people contacted responded to the survey. At the same time, the supply of fair trade products was surveyed in detail in the study areas. This resulted in data on 351 stores in Cologne and 299 stores in Zurich.

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