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Made in Britain labelling for ceramics

MP raises Fake it British issue in Parliament as foreign-made ceramics are passed off as Made in Stoke

Spode Pottery. Founded in 1770 in Stoke-on-Trent

Spode Pottery. Founded in 1770 in Stoke-on-Trent

Anyone that reads this blog regularly will know that a constant bugbear of mine is when a product is marketed to the public as ‘British’, when in fact it is not made in Britain. This is something that I have coined the phrase ‘Fake it British’ for, and there are far too many examples of it taking place at the moment (see previous articles on HP Sauce, Team GB kit and just about anything to do with the Jubilee). This is why it was great to see an MP standing up in the House of Commons yesterday complaining about misleading country of origin labelling that is deliberately designed to confuse the customer.

Tristram Hunt is the Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central, and he has every right to feel strongly about the subject. His constituency is the home of pottery, which has been made there since the 16th Century.  The great pottery manufacturing names of Wedgwood, Spode, Royal Doulton and Minton, celebrated around the world for the excellence of their craftsmanship, came out of Stoke-on-Trent, and the “Made in Staffordshire” stamp is a global hallmark of excellence around the world.  So when  companies are trying to trade off that skill by passing pottery off as ‘made in Britain’, when it has been made abroad but merely finished in England – a process known in the ceramics industry as ‘bogus back-stamping’ – it is wrong on so many levels.

As Tristram put it to the House of Commons, “it is harming jobs and investment in the UK, and especially in Stoke-on-Trent. More than that, morally, it is trading off the skills, sweat and application of generations of Stoke-on-Trent workers, who turned the “Made in Staffordshire” brand into a world-class mark of excellence”.

Whilst Mr Hunt has no problem with goods being made abroad and finished in the UK, it is the fact that some “companies will produce a big mug with a Union Jack on and stamp England on the bottom of it and it’ll be made in Romania or China”, that he has a problem with. He raised the fact there is even an EU directive for ceramic ware that states that a product has to be labelled according to the country in which it has its first firing, and yet still this practice is going on.

The Stoke MP would like to see this dubious practice of misleading labelling, be it for pottery from Stoke or knitwear from Scotland, ironed out, in order that the consumer can be in a good position to make an informed choice – not lead into believing that they are buying into 300 years of British craftsmanship, when in fact they are not.

Speaking in return, Jo Swinson, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, said that the onus lies with trading standards to enforce the current law, rather than there being any likelihood of a compulsory Made in Britain labelling system being enforced. She cited the cost of implementation to businesses of any such ticketing as the reason the government is against it, and even if they wanted to bring in such labelling anyway, she claims that they could not due to rulings by the European Court of Justice.

She followed her negative reply up by saying that businesses should undertake voluntary labelling if they wanted to market their products as made in Britain – however my concern on that would be that there is still no officially recognised marque that denotes what is made in Britain, and who is policing these voluntary labels?

However, it’s not all doom and gloom for those that would like to see clearer labelling of the products that they buy. The basic rule is that ‘if consumers are likely to be misled in their purchasing decision, an offence is likely to have been committed’. And in the case of Mr Hunt’s Fake it British pottery, they have indeed been misled.



  1. Tim Walker on February 28, 2013 at 9:01 am

    As a retailer and wholesaler of goods designed and manufactured in England this enfuriates me but I think the issue needs to be taken further. This should be extended to brands also. Those brands trading on their British heritage that have outsourced practically all their production globally shouldn’t be putting a London, England, Britain or Union Flag on the product. It is disingenuous and unfair to those companies absorbing the 3-4 times skills costs for real British goods. Many British people would be prepared to pay the premium for the additional quality and a known chain of custody.

    • on February 28, 2013 at 9:49 am

      Disingenuous – exactly Tim. Couldn’t have put it better myself

  2. Steve on February 28, 2013 at 10:39 am

    The next time a politician uses the Court of Human Rights as an excuse I think I will probably spit! Another thing, an honest label would surly cost the same as a dishonest one. I have in stock several products bearing a well known cycle makers name . Three quarters of the backing card has a Union Flag background. None of the products were even attached to the card in UK let alone made here.
    The real worry is these people who say these things are supposed to be on our side! If that’s promoting Business, Innovation, and Skills, we have a way to go.

  3. Lizzy on March 1, 2013 at 9:03 pm

    So, does that mean that if a piece of china says “Made in England” on it it may actually have been made in China etc and just finished off here ??? Do I need to phone a well-known Staffordshire pottery company (not mentioned in your article) to double-check that my dinner service is really English ? I’m fed-up with forever double-checking ! I leave well alone anything that just says “England” or “London” as that normally means made-anywhere-else-in-the-world-except-Britain, but when it says Made in England/Britain I tend to believe it.

    I do agree with what Tim said, and I am prepared to pay more for British-made products, but not necessarily a premium. There seems to be a big emphasis on higher-end products, and “designer” labels, because of this a lot of people arent joining the band-wagon as they feel buying British is going to be too expensive for them, when it’s not always they case. I get most excited about finding everyday items like British-made wellies in Mothercare; British-made children’s vests and school uniforms that are cheaper than or comparable with M&S. I’ve even found some very cheap British-made buckets & spades (yes, I know it’s all kiddy-stuff). Our British-made tv was no more expensive than an imported one. My dinner service, which I truly hope is 100% made in Staffordshire, was very affordable and bought from a supermarket.

    Sorry for going off-topic, I did start having a rant about a brand that plays on it’s “quintessentially British” designs, but forgets to say “Made in India” on it’s labels….but I don’t want to get into trouble.

    • on March 1, 2013 at 9:31 pm

      Hi Lizzy

      Well if you read the entire debate that went on in the House of Commons the other day,from what I can gather it is the ones with just England stamped on the bottom that are made in Romania or China.
      However, it appears that there is a law specific to ceramics which says that their first firing has to take place here in order for them to be described as Made in Britain, but some companies are not adhering to it. And due to cost cutting in Trade Standards no one is upholding the law. It’s outrageous!!

      • Lizzy on March 6, 2013 at 10:47 pm

        Well, as I said anything with just “England” or “London” on it normally means it’s been imported, but I can understand why some people presume it must be made here. I’m shocked that the ceramic companies are allowed to get away with it though.

        There are quite a few British-made directories out there, maybe there should be a “Not Really Made in Britain Believe It or Not” directory. Although I’m sure it would just end up causing far too much trouble !

  4. Syd Partridge on March 6, 2013 at 11:04 am

    My only concern is the involvement of politicians. Having previously been involved with ‘beneficial’ legislation I found that the lobbying ability of the large companies resulted in untenable fees and bureaucracy for small business. Stoves, started a very good made in Britain marque which I’m proud to use. It might be better for politicians to support something like this, created by business rather than committee led re-invention of the wheel. After all, the farming community have managed to encourage people to buy British under their own steam.

    • on March 6, 2013 at 11:20 am

      Hi Syd
      You make a fair point about what might happen to small businesses if this gets steam rollered by the larger ones.
      However, whilst i have every respect for what Stoves have done getting their own logo off the ground, i have a couple of concerns with it.

      Firstly, there is not any sort of official body policing who employs the Stoves logo. Currently approval is done by an external marketing company that Stoves uses, and I don;t believe that they audit the businesses that display it. This situation of trust has worked fine up until now, but what happens when someone abuses it?

      Secondly, there has been much discussion about the design of the Stoves logo, mainly because it does not have a Union Jack flag on, and hence is not that instantly recognisable.

      I agree that we do need something like the Red Tractor logo that has been created in farming, separate from Government and politicians, however, I think anything that can draw their attention to how many people are behind British manufacturing has got to be a good thing.

      • Syd Partridge on March 6, 2013 at 12:28 pm

        I agree with your comments and auditing should be a necessary requirement. But I think the thing that needs looking at in the first instance is what constitutes ‘British made’ . With regards to abuse. I have a supplier who not only has had his work copied by a British company but to add insult to injury the copied components are made in India and once finished are sold as ‘Made in Britain’. Trading standards have been of little help. Perhaps with a trademarked, licensed logo this sort of thing could be stopped.

        • on March 6, 2013 at 12:39 pm

          That’s a shocker Syd – this mis-labelling of products has got to stop! Can’t believe trading standards have done nothing :-O

  5. Camila on May 12, 2013 at 1:48 am

    And don’t forget the designer-makers from London that come up to Stoke to buy whiteware (also called blanks) to decorate with their own illustrations. Some of them are buying a made-in-china product and don’t even know it, as some of the manufacturers here in Stoke are not being honest either! Makes me so angry.

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