The recently celebrated Fair Trade Fortnight was a really good reminder of the changes in our market place over the past decade, the increased emphasis on ethical trading and how businesses can use these values to establish a real point of difference.

Business has always had a human face because every transaction relies on a relationship and trust. These days with consumers accessing products and services across multiple platforms, establishing trust and strengthening relationships may be harder to do.

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Tony Collins: Is buying local the right thing to do?

However, it does not make the need to form a trusted relationship any less relevant than it has ever been. Multiple platforms can however, allow business to clearly establish a point of difference and articulate those values that align with their market to create a brand that sits comfortably with the consumer.

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Consumers are now much more mindful about what they consume. Part of this journey is not only about consuming less but critically being aware of what we are consuming and where it comes from. It kind of follows on from the rationale behind buying local or understanding the social and environmental impacts that can occur along any particular supply chain. It is a behaviour that can set a business community apart and define its values.

So, it is important for business to understand that today's consumer is more likely than ever to look at their transactions through an ethical lens.

Unfortunately, not every consumer is empowered to make these choices either through financial constraints, time constraints or possibly because other things are more immediate and more pressing. Those who do or can will have any number of reasons for making what they consider an ethical choice. They might want to help the environment, they might feel it's the right thing to do, they might want to help people in poorer countries or it might just make them feel good.

The good news for business is that just like the consumer, everyone's behaviour is going to be somewhere along a continuum. It is unlikely that anyone will be doing all they can do but the important thing may well be to understand that behaviours are changing and must change. More importantly in doing the right thing there is an opportunity for many businesses to develop a brand and a market relationship that is truly valued by the community in which they operate.

■ Tony Collins is the Northland Chamber of Commerce's chief executive.