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Fair Trade: what it means, what it does, and how you play a part

Last Friday I attended the Fairly Fashionable? event, where local fashion designers created garments using Fair Trade fabric to raise awareness of ethical fashion. I was telling some new friends about it, and one of them asked me:

“What is Fair Trade?”

Good point! Whilst you probably know (or could guess!) it means that workers getting paid a fair price for the goods that they produce, there’s actually a bit more to it than that.

What does “Fair Trade” Mean?

Fair Trade is all about better prices, yes, but it’s also about decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world.

The movement came about after people recognized that conventional trade wasn’t providing fair wages and sustainable livelihoods for the world’s poorest people. Poverty and hardship make these workers more vulnerable to exploitation by limiting their choices, access to markets and negotiating power.

The idea with Fair Trade is that farmers or workers are paid a higher price for their goods or services, and this cost is passed onto the consumer, who will pay more for a product that has been fairly traded.

There’s no one definition of Fair Trade; there are many different organisations who promote Fair Trade, and they have different standards and criteria. The 10 principles listed by the World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO), which Fair Trade organisations are expected to follow, are excellent for explaining what Fair Trade companies across the globe strive to achieve.

The 10 Principles of Fair Trade

Principle 1: Creating Opportunities for Economically Disadvantaged Producers

Principle 2: Transparency and Accountability

Principle 3: Fair Trading Practices

Principle 4: Payment of a Fair Price

Principle 5: Ensuring no Child Labour and Forced Labour

Principle 6: Commitment to Non Discrimination, Gender Equity and Women’s Economic Empowerment and Freedom of Association

Principle 7: Ensuring Good Working Conditions

Principle 8: Providing Capacity Building

Principle 9: Promoting Fair Trade

Principle 10: Respect for the Environment

(You can read a full description of these principles here)

How does Fair Trade Work?

Fair Trade has existed since WWII, but was more focused on handicrafts in the beginning, with products sold solely from Fair Trade shops (also called worldshops) and churches. From the 1980s there was a shift towards the fair trade of agricultural products, and the idea of certification came about.

Certification was introduced in 1988; the first certified Fair Trade product was coffee.The idea behind certification was that it allowed consumers to recognize which products gave farmers a premium price for their crops and followed Fair Trade principles. This meant products could be sold in mainstream shops such as supermarkets rather than specific Fair Trade shops. Certification has allowed the reach of Fair Trade to grow massively, and more customers means more farmers can benefit.

How does certification work? An independent organisation certifies that the commodities used in a product meet Fair Trade standards, and manufacturers pay for the right to use a logo. This tells consumers that the product meets certification standards for Fair Trade.

The FAIRTRADE Mark

The FAIRTRADE Mark is probably the most famous Fair Trade logo: it’s currently used in over 50 countries and is attached to over 27,000 products. It’s an independent certification mark that guarantees a product has been produced according to international Fair Trade standards. It shows that the product has been certified to offer a better deal to the farmers and workers involved.

Fairtrade logos

Certification schemes with logos that people recognize mean that products can be stocked in supermarkets where high volumes of products can be sold. It is estimated 90% of consumers trust the FAIRTRADE Mark – and this confidence means higher sales.

Whilst the FAIRTRADE Mark is the world’s biggest Fair Trade certification scheme, it’s not the only one. Different certifiers will have different standards and procedures, but all promote Fair Trade.

Different Fairtrade logos

Logos from Fair Trade USA (left and second left), the Fairtrade Federation and the World Fair Trade Organization

Not all Fairly Traded products are certified, either. Remember that participating in a Fair Trade certification scheme costs money. Some organisations that work with small cooperatives to produce Fair Trade products may not have the resources to certify their products; but that does not mean they don’t adhere to Fair Trade principles. Most businesses selling Fair Trade products want to be as transparent as possible, so if in doubt, just ask questions.

What Can We Do to Support Fair Trade?

Buy Fair Trade products! Simple as that! The most common products are coffee, chocolate, sugar and bananas, and you’ll be able to find these in supermarkets. Health food stores and independent grocers will probably have a wider range.

Start with just one product that you buy that has a Fair Trade alternative, and make the switch. Last year I switched to only buying Fair Trade chocolate. The market for Fair Trade products continues to grow every year, and the more we support it, the more this growth will continue.

Fairtrade InfographicFor more information on Fair Trade, and to see how you can support Fair Trade in your area, check out these great websites:

World Fair Trade Organization
Fairtrade International
Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand
Fairtrade Foundation (UK)
Fair Trade USA

Do you already buy Fair Trade products? Are you new to Fair Trade but willing to make the switch? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment below!

Fairly Fashionable? Making a Difference after Rana Plaza

24th April 2014 was the one year anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, where 1133 people lost their lives, and over 2,500 were injured when the overcrowded and unsafe building they were working in collapsed. They were sewing garments to be sold in the West. Companies who have admitted they had recent or trial orders at Rana Plaza at the time of the accident include Bon Marche, Matalan and Primark (UK/Ireland); Cato Fashions, Walmart and The Children’s Place (USA); and Mango and Benetton (Europe) (for the complete list see here).

At the time of the accident, and again at the anniversary (and many times in between) I was sad, I was angry, and I wanted to help make things change – but how? I want to do something, but I’m not sure what to do. I’m not really a consumer. I don’t buy many new clothes. It’s already pretty obvious to me that if I can go into a store and buy a brand new pair of jeans for less than £15 – a store that is paying rent for a premium high street position, that has staff it will be paying the minimum UK wage of £6.31/hour, that has fixtures and fitting rooms and lighting and heating to pay, that has sturdy paper bags to pack my goods into, that has transported its goods across the globe to line its shelves – then somewhere along the way, someone is being screwed… and it’s likely to be the worker who made them.

I’m not the only one to be outraged by the Rana Plaza tragedy, or course. But whilst I’m lamenting what I could or should be doing, or where I’d even start, there are people with their heads already down, getting on with changing the world and making it a better place.

FairlyFashionable banner

One such inspiring project is the Fairly Fashionable? challenge, organised by Fair Trade Freo and the WA Fair Trade Collective, two local Fair Trade groups. It was an event organised by a group of volunteers who wanted to bring focus to the fashion and garment industry and promote Fair Trade. On the anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy, designers received a piece of donated Fair Trade fabric, and had 14 days to create a garment or fashion accessory that incorporated the fabric. They could use their own fabrics to complete the work provided they were recycled, upcycled or ethically sourced.

Last Friday, the eve of World Fair Trade Day, was the Fairly Fashionable? finale: a public fashion show showcasing the designs, as well as talks on ethical fashion. It challenged both the designers and the audience to ask the questions: where are our clothes made? How are they made? Under what conditions? How does their design and manufacture impact the environmental, social and environmental sustainability of people and the the planet?

FairlyFashionable1
FairlyFashionable4
Fairtrade
FairlyFashionable3

The turnout was incredible, far more than the organizers were expecting and there were as many people standing as sitting. The designs were hugely creative. The event certainly got me thinking. Not just about Fair Trade, but also about the power we all have to make a difference, not just as individuals but also as groups and communities. It was hugely inspiring to see what the organizers had achieved in just two months (I can’t believe they pulled the whole thing off in just two months!), and how many people they had brought together to share their vision.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” ~Margaret Mead.

Ethical Chocolate

When we gave up plastic, it was a massive relief that we could still buy chocolate. Plastic-free bars of chocolate wrapped in foil and paper were our salvation. I’ve tried making my own, messing around with cocoa butter and cacao powder but I just can’t make something that I like anywhere near as much as the stuff I can buy.

Once we started down the plastic-free path I became a lot more aware of the additives, preservatives and other nasties in food, and slowly made the switch to the whole foods approach to eating. I now make most things from scratch, but I can’t make everything, and I want the things that I do buy to be as healthy as possible. For this reason I’m making the switch from milk to dark chocolate, and we stopped buying any chocolate made by Cadbury’s at the start of the year – have you looked at the ingredients list on those bars?!

Now we’ve made a commitment to go one step further. I firmly believe that every time we spend our money we are voting – for the kind of businesses we want to support and for the kind of products we see on the shelves – and these choices define our futures. So we’ve made a commitment to only buy chocolate that is organic and fair trade.

This seems like an obvious choice. But here in Australia, the confectionery aisle is dominated by Cadburys and Lindt, both of which are massive global companies. In the UK, it is much easier to support smaller ethical chocolate brands as they are more readily available. The bigger stores seem to offer so much choice, although it is often only a small handful of different brands, and the choice is actually between which additives (cunningly disguised as flavours) we prefer. Faced with so much “choice” it is easier to opt for whatever brand is on special offer. This is where the big companies (who can afford to sponsor promotions) win and the small guys lose out. We do it without even thinking.

Well, now we’ve started thinking.

We want to support fair trade because it pays a fair price to farmers, and supports ethical and sustainable practices. Child slave labour, exploitation and trafficking are issues linked to the cocoa industry, and supporting fair trade is one way to protest this. The international fair trade logo is something to look out for, but it is worth remembering that suppliers have to pay to receive certification, and smaller companies may not be affiliated due to the costs involved whilst still having fair trade policies – and if they do, they’ll be telling you on their packaging or website!

Supporting organic is one way to avoid additives and preservatives, which are not allowed in organic produce, whilst also supporting sustainable agricultural practices. It’s still worth checking the ingredients list to make sure the cocoa content is high, sugar content is low and there are no cheap fillers like oil that offer no nutritional benefits. Not all producers can afford certification, so for very small companies do your research and use your judgement.

Yes, organic and fairtrade chocolate costs more. Seriously though, how much are we talking? A 100g bar of Lindt costs $2.49 on special offer. Organic fairtrade chocolate may cost you $5. (For readers outside Australia, yes, the prices here are much higher than everywhere else!) Whilst that may be 100% more, in actual money we’re talking a couple of dollars. That extra couple of dollars is ensuring the farmer gets a fair wage. How much chocolate are you eating, anyways? Shouldn’t it be a treat, not a staple?!

Step away from the supermarkets, and there’s better choice. Our local independent grocery store has these to offer:

chocolate

Mmm…chocolate!

Green and Blacks was my favourite brand in the UK. Their Maya Gold bar was the first product in the UK to be labelled fairtrade, back in 1994, and I remember buying their chocolate when it was only available in health food stores. They actually sold out to Cadbury in 2005, however the original owner remains President and it still runs as a stand-alone business. Cadbury has since been sold to Kraft…so whilst it still has great eco credentials, it now lines the coffers of a multinational company.

Alter Eco is a company I only found out about a few months ago, although according to their website they’ve been around for a decade. Their headquarters are in the US. They seem committed to fairtrade and sustainability, but I don’t know much about them.

As for Oxfam, being a global not-for-profit organisation committed to poverty reduction, social equality and fair trade, they probably have the best credentials of all… except their chocolate is nowhere near as nice.

Of course, it would be much more sustainable to not buy chocolate at all, seeing as it all comes from across the oceans. I’m not ready for that yet. Small steps, eh?

Take one thing you do that’s not sustainable, and make it a bit more sustainable. And then move on to the next thing. And just keep going.