Fairtrade's explosive growth slowed during the recession last year as British shoppers thought twice about buying more expensive ethical products, figures to be released today show.
Overall, Fair-trade sales rose by 12 per cent to an estimated £799m, the Fairtrade Foundation said. While products such as coffee and tea held up, sales of Fairtrade cotton in clothing fell. In 2007, sales jumped 71 per cent compared with the previous year while in 2008 they were up by 45 per cent.
The Fairtrade Foundation said consumers had remained "staunchly loyal" throughout 2009, adding that the global economic downturn had meant a "desperate" year for producers in developing countries.
Harriet Lamb, chief executive of the Fairtrade Foundation, said: "2009 was a tough year for everyone, but a desperate year for many poor communities and small farmers in developing countries.
"For millions of growers and their families and communities, Fairtrade was able to make the difference that has helped them survive a difficult year and plan for the future. It is to the credit of the decent British and Irish public that they do care and, despite the recession, they are still voting with their wallets for fairness and want to change the indignities of an unjust trading system.
"These challenging times have been a wake-up call and forward-thinking companies have also been re-evaluating their priorities, seeing sustainability as the way forward for business, building relations with producers and introducing many Fairtrade products in the past year."
The foundation is asking consumers to switch everyday shopping basket items for fair trade items during "the Big Swap" over Fairtrade Fortnight beginning today, an annual nationwide campaign to promote awareness of the movement.
A YouGov poll of UK consumers found 71% were willing to swap one or more products to mark the event.
Secretary of State for International Development, Douglas Alexander, said: "Farmers and producers in some of the world's poorest countries have suffered at the sharp end of the economic crisis and, in many cases, it is thanks to Fairtrade that they have been able to feed their families and keep their children in education.
"The label's success on the high street is testament to UK shoppers' desire to make a difference through their everyday purchases."
Ms Lamb added: "The message is unequivocal. For producers to benefit, shoppers must actually put Fairtrade products in their baskets. They can only sell more if we buy more."
More than 4,500 products are now licensed to carry the Fairtrade Mark, the foundation said.