Defining "Made in Britain"

What does "Made in Britain" actually mean to a consumer?


In terms of defining your nationality, being British is quite simple. But when it comes to a product and defining what makes it “British” seems to be rather more ambiguous. 

So where does a product need to have been conceived or developed or produced in order to be promoted as being “Made in Britain”? Is it where the product is designed? Is it how the product is made, using materials sourced only in Britain? Or is it where the product is manufactured? Or is it all of the above? 

One thing for certain is that if you ask the person in the street what Made in Britain means they will say it is for something designed and manufactured from raw materials and assembled from parts wholly derived from labour and technology hosted on our shores.

Legally this is not the case and according to our research, there is no set definition of what “Made in Britain” means. The 1968 Trades Description Act appears to be the only document in existence that refers to a country of origin for a product. The Act states that “Goods are deemed to have been manufactured or produced in the country in which they last underwent a treatment or process resulting in a substantial change”. The term “substantial change” is not defined in the Act, and over time this has done nothing to clarify a situation but arguably created a cheat’s charter stretching credibility of the original marque. To make matters worse there are competing campaigns all promoting their own version of Made in Britain. 

It would appear the spectrum for being able to label a product as “Made in Britain” is considerably wide. This not only devalues the message but also means that the consumer isn’t getting the full story. In the present time, a company who imports materials in to the UK in order to make a product has the same “Made in Britain” status as one that sources everything from within the UK. The latter’s overheads will likely be higher, and therefore the end product more expensive but your average consumer is never going to be able to tell the difference and will almost always be attracted to the cheaper product. 

If every product labelled as “Made in Britain” was conceived, designed, sourced and manufactured in the UK, there would be no discrepancy and there would be an opportunity for fair trade. “Made in Britain” is potentially a very powerful message, and one that has a crucial place post-Brexit, but has very little legitimacy if it does not satisfy the expectation of the buyer.  

At the moment there’s a lot of published articles around, indicating that there’s an increasing interest from consumers to buy British. Unfortunately, there are fewer articles providing what the consumer’s understanding of this actually is. We suspect that they expect a legitimate British product to be the work of a British-based company, using locally manufactured parts and made in their own factory. If this is found to be the case, then surely it is the role of official organisations like the Made in Britain marque to make a step change to only support the businesses who adhere to these working principles. In addition to providing the definitive answer to what a British-made product should be, this will also help to reinforce our manufacturing industry, maintain skills and generate employment and above all result in only have one standard we all understand and hold value in.