The country of origin may appear on some products but not on similar products by other manufacturers. This is because there is no legal requirement for companies to indicate where their products are made. There are some exceptions (for example, some food products are required by law to show the country of origin), but generally the decision on whether or not to put the country of origin on a product is one for the manufacturer to decide.
Some products are regularly marked with the country in which they are produced. Scotland has a reputation for producing high quality whisky and as such, most producers of Scotch whisky will mark their products "Made in Scotland". Steel produced in Sheffield has a reputation of being a high quality material, therefore the "Sheffield steel" mark can be found on cutlery and other steel products where the manufacturer believes that quality is a major factor in consumers' choice of product.
There are a number of industry schemes in operation that have marks of origin at their heart. The 'British Turkey Quality Mark' and the 'Laid in Britain' mark (for egg producers) are two examples from the food sector. These schemes are also optional, so again, some products may show the mark and others may not.
So what's to stop companies putting 'Made in Britain' on everything? The Trade Descriptions Act makes it a criminal offence for a trader to put a misleading trade description on his goods and that includes false or misleading statements about where something was made.
'Ethical trading' means that companies are trying to ensure that the basic labour rights of the employees of their third world suppliers are respected. It refers to companies rather than products. There is an Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) that aims to identify and promote ethical trade. It tries to make sure that the working conditions of workers producing foods for the UK market meet or exceed international standards.
The ETI focuses on learning and promotion of Free Trade concepts, rather than on certification or labelling, and exists to share experience.
Products bearing the FAIRTRADE Mark (or Fair Trade Certified in the US) are independently guaranteed by the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation International to be providing a certain standard of return for disadvantaged producers and contributes towards their development. The return or 'deal' that the producers get is not limited to economic gain, but ethical purchasing standards are applied as well, such as adherence to international labour standards. An example is the prohibition of child labour. In general terms certification means that producers are paid a decent price that at least covers the true cost of production, despite fluctuations in world commodity prices.
Origin marking is the practice of labelling goods with the country of their origin, allowing the consumer to make decisions based on factors like environmental costs of transport. There is no requirement in the law of the United Kingdom or European Union for goods to bear marks indicating their origin, nor is there anything to prevent voluntary origin marking where traders wish to do so.
However, where origin marks are applied to goods, the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 requires these marks to be accurate.
If you are concerned about the environment, you may want to look for products that are less ecologically damaging. But not all green claims are what they appear to be.
Don't be fooled by terms such as 'green' or 'eco-friendly' if companies do not explain what they mean by these terms. Also, just because something is produced in green ink or uses pictures of trees and flowers, it doesn't mean that the product is necessarily kinder to the environment.
The best explanations are those that make specific claims, such as 'Contains 70% recycled paper'.
The European Ecolabel is a voluntary green label scheme run by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the UK. The scheme is designed to encourage businesses to develop products that are less harmful to the environment, and at the same time helping consumers identify them. The scheme applies to 21 different types of product, from TVs and textiles to detergents and paints.