By Lee Mannion
EDINBURGH, Sept 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A lack of public awareness is holding back British businesses that put people before profit, industry leaders said at a conference in Scotland this week, comparing the social enterprise tag with the better known Fairtrade movement.
Britain is seen as a global leader in the innovative social enterprise sector, with about 70,000 businesses set up with a social or environmental remit employing nearly 1 million people last year, according to Social Enterprise UK.
But unlike the Fairtrade scheme - which guarantees producers in developing countries a fair price - few people know how social enterprises work, industry figures said at the Social Enterprise World Forum in Edinburgh.
"No one knows what social enterprise is," said Cecilia Crossley, founder of a company that sells baby clothes and gives the profits to charities supporting orphaned and abandoned children around the world.
"I feel like it can address a lot of market failures. It's taking a free market economic system and tinkering with it and helping put some plasters on it so that some of the failures aren't quite so hideous, and I want everybody to understand that."
June O'Sullivan, chief executive of the London Early Years Foundation, which provides childcare in 37 nurseries across the city, said consumers needed to be aware of the work done by social enterprises.
"When you make a choice and you say 'social enterprise', they may not even know the detail, but they know the brand means that something beneficial happens, either at home or overseas," she said.
In a 2016 poll, 87 percent of social entrepreneurs thought what they did needed to be better understood and 71 percent struggled to make a living from their business, according to UnLtd, a foundation for social entrepreneurs.
Social Enterprise UK has been running Social Saturday, a series of awareness raising events around the UK in October, for the last three years.
In 2014 the group launched the "Buy Social" logo to aid recognition of goods made by social enterprises.
"We've got a whole range of social issues, and social enterprises are established to address those," said Sarah Crawley of iSE, a business development agency for social enterprises.
"They're not established to get grant funding, they are established to earn money, so they need to be able to earn money to address that social issue. Without people understanding what we do, that's not going to happen."
(Reporting by Lee Mannion @leemannion, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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