Journal of Consumer Policy

, Volume 42, Issue 3, pp 397–423 | Cite as

A Matter of Principle: Comparing Norm-Based Explanations for Fair Trade Consumption

  • P. SchenkEmail author
Original Paper


Research on fair trade consumption has proliferated in recent years. However, to date, systematic comparisons of the various theoretical models attempting to explain the purchase of fair trade products are rare. The present paper addresses this gap by comparing three theories which explain fair trade consumption by reference to a personal norm: The norm-activation model (NAM), the value-belief-norm (VBN) theory, and the value-identity-personal norm (VIP) model. Using data from a random sample of the general population in Zurich (Switzerland), the paper compares the explanatory power and the causal structures of these theories with structural equation models. The results show that the value-identity-personal norm (VIP) model explains the largest amount of variance in the purchase of fair trade products, followed by the value-belief-norm (VBN) theory. Furthermore, the analysis indicates that values influence the personal norm via specific beliefs (awareness of consequences and ascription of responsibility), as specified in VBN, as well as via the more general concept of an identity as a critical consumer, as hypothesized by VIP. In contrast, the results do not support the moderator-formulation of the NAM. The paper therefore concludes that VIP and VBN both represent valuable theories specifying complementary mechanisms for explaining fair trade consumption, whereas there is no evidence for the NAM as an explanation of fair trade consumption.


Fair trade consumption Theory comparison Norm-activation model Value-belief-norm theory Value-identity-personal norm model 



This study was funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (grant number 100017_129559).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of LucerneLucerneSwitzerland

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