When Fairtrade first started to creep into my consciousness (mostly from my amazing mum who has been shouting the good cause since we were kids) it was just another picture on a chocolate wrapper to ignore. But as my interest in where food comes from, sustainability and general interest in trying to be a better person grew I wanted to understand more about what it actually means. Hopefully this post will allow me to share some of what I’ve learnt, mostly through being a coffee and chocolate junkie!
Put simply Fairtrade is a voluntary certification scheme that ensures producers of raw goods (fruit, cocoa, sugar etc) are paid a minimum price for their products and money is also given to social projects surrounding producers in developing countries. There are so many reasons that we should try to support Fairtrade as much as we can as it helps support over a million farmers and producers and because of the money distributed more widely millions more benefit through community work.
Will buying Fairtrade actually make a difference though?
Although there is some criticism of the scheme – such as that sustainable supply chains rely on more than just price – this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be aware of them and support ethical schemes that are attempting to solve problems that most of us can’t comprehend or are even aware of.
Fairtrade also helps to minimise the environmental footprint of many of our daily products as strict limits on the amount of pesticides and fertilisers are put in place, as well as rules regarding sensible use of water and energy and disposal of waste. Fairtrade allows for transparency of the global food chain and traceability of ingredients. Workers on farms supported by Fairtrade are also ensured safe, comfortable working conditions and sustainable wages so they are supported; demonstrating the wide reach that supporting Fairtrade can have.
What kind of products can I buy?
The range of Fairtrade products are often of incredible quality, produced by artisanal masters who really care about creating high quality goods now and in the future. In the UK there are around 5000 Fairtrade products to choose from and the market was valued at £1.64 billion in in 2016. Bananas are the most commonly purchased Fairtrade product in the UK – Sainsbury’s, Co-op and Waitrose for example only stock Fairtrade bananas. The Co-op are also firm supporters of the certification and recently switched to 100% Fairtrade cocoa across its ranges.
Did you know? In the UK the first Fairtrade symbol was launched in 1994 on Green & Blacks Maya Gold bar.
Even everyday items like KitKats and Maltesers and the hot drinks at Greggs are Fairtrade so you might be supporting the scheme already without knowing it! More obscure Fairtrade products you can buy include flowers, clothes, baby food, grains and even gold so take a second to look for the symbol.
Some big food manufacturers though have moved from supporting fair trade certification to self-regulated in-house schemes; for example, Cadbury switched all products to parent company Mondelez’s Cocoa Life scheme in 2016. This move was seen as controversial as it was though it might cause confusion and dent the reputation of the Fairtrade name. However, the Fairtrade Foundation UK supports these schemes as they still contribute to improving lives in developing countries so look out for symbols like the one below and not just the easy-to-spot Fairtrade icon.
Every purchase matters
Fairtrade towns and zones in the UK are communities where Fairtrade is widely supported. To achieve this status these towns and cities must meet 5 goals such as selling Fairtrade products in council offices, workplaces and restaurants and increasing the use and presence of Fairtrade products in ways that get communities involved. Scotland for example are amazing at committing to Fairtrade, as 27 of their 32 local authorities are registered as Fairtrade zones!
It might seem like switching your weekly purchase of coffee, tea, bananas and chocolate to Fairtrade versions will have such a small impact but every purchase counts for the farmers and producers of these valuable and delicious items (and contributes to driving demand for Fairtrade products). Just how if everyone who was able to could pick up one piece of litter off the streets every day there would be no litter, if everyone supported community driven initiatives such as this the world would be a much fairer place!
“[A cynic is] a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing” – Lord Darlington in Oscar Wilde’s play Lady Windermere’s Fan.
For the keen readers and evidence-checkers amongst you:
BBC (2016). Is Cadbury’s move the end for Fairtrade? Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-38137480
Fairtrade Foundation – https://www.fairtrade.org.uk
Fairtrade Fortnight (Feb to March every year) – https://www.fairtrade.org.uk/Get-Involved/Current-campaigns/Fairtrade-Fortnight
Reese & Kohlmann (2015). Feeling global, acting ethically: global identification and fairtrade consumption. doi: 10.1080/00224545.2014.992850.
Traidcraft (online shop selling a huge selection of Fairtrade goods) – https://www.traidcraftshop.co.uk/