Let’s Be Fair About Fairtrade

Posted: 23rd April 2018

Let’s Be Fair About Fairtrade

After attending the inspirational WiRE Conference 2018, I went on to another thought-provoking event right on my doorstep.

It was a meeting to re-ignite a steering group to raise awareness of the Fairtrade movement in East Staffordshire and renew its application to be a Fairtrade borough.

I’ve always been a supporter of the Fairtrade movement because making a few simple shopping choices is such an easy way to help farmers and workers get paid a fair price for the food and goods they produce.

Nearly all the major supermarkets now stock Fairtrade tea, coffee, chocolates, bananas and much more.  Small businesses do their bit for Fairtrade too but it’s important that they remember to use the Fairtrade logo to keep their customers informed. Many people are looking to make ethical choices, so shouting about your Fairtrade support can be a useful marketing tool.

Part of being a Fairtrade borough, town or city is also about working with organisations, churches and schools to spread the Fairtrade word and encourage them to serve Fairtrade hot drinks and promote their support. If you are a member of a hobby group, or if you provide tea and coffee at WiRE networking meetings, perhaps that’s a change you could make?

It seems there are still some myths about Fairtrade – and they are far from fair.

So, with help from an article by the Fairtrade Foundation, here are six things people most often get wrong about Fairtrade.

  1. “Fairtrade products are more expensive” There was a time when Fairtrade was a bit tricky to find – and perhaps a little pricey. I seem to remember Oxfam charity shops being one of the few places you could buy items bearing the Fairtrade logo. These days the Co-op is well-known for its range of Fairtrade products, but you will also find items in Sainsbury’s and Tesco among other major retailers. Did you know that all the tea and coffee at high street giants Greggs is Fairtrade? Aldi has started selling Fairtrade roses. You can also enjoy your KitKat, Mars and Maltesers knowing they are Fairtrade.
  2. “Anyone can stick the Fairtrade badge on their product” The Fairtrade Mark is a registered certification label for products sourced from producers in developing countries. Products that display it must meet Fairtrade Standards, set by Fairtrade International. Any company ‘just slapping the Fairtrade badge on their product’ without meeting the above standards for that product would be investigated and could even open themselves up to legal action.
  3. “Only a small percentage of the price you pay for a Fairtrade product goes back to the farmer” The first thing to explain is that that Fairtrade farmers are NOT paid a percentage of the retail price you pay for a product in a shop. Prices in the shops are set by the retailer. The way Fairtrade works is that the producer organisation (such as a coffee co-operative) receives the Fairtrade price at the point where they sell to the next person in the supply chain (usually an exporter or importer). This is intended to ensure farmers can cover their costs no matter how low the world price for their commodity falls. There is a lot more detail on this Fairtrade FAQ page.
  4.  “Fairtrade locks farmers into a fixed price”  The ‘Fairtrade Minimum Price’ is a safety net, calculated to cover farmers’ costs of production, and only coming into play in a worst-case scenario. It is not something that locks farmers into a fixed price. Fairtrade producers also receive an extra payment called the ‘Fairtrade Premium’. This is a sum of money that they decide democratically how best to spend. Some might spend it on improved training and farming techniques, others on building schools and medical clinics; it’s their choice.
  5. “Fairtrade doesn’t encourage farmers to improve quality” This myth comes from the idea that the safety net of the Fairtrade Minimum Price means there is little or no incentive for farmers to improve the quality of their crop. But, producer groups are not tied into receiving the Minimum Price – higher quality produce can and does attract higher prices – so there is a genuine incentive for Fairtrade farmers to innovate and improve quality. In total Fairtrade coffees have won over 28 Great Taste Awards in the last three years.
  6. “The job’s done” To directly quote the Fairtrade Foundation: “Fairtrade Standards have helped workers and communities across the world, with considerable success in improving access to education, healthcare and opportunities for women. But the battle is far from won. Only a small proportion of global commodities are sold on Fairtrade terms, and challenges like climate change, market volatility and armed conflict pose an urgent threat to livelihoods.”In reality, there has never been a silver bullet, a click-your-fingers magic trick for ending exploitation. Fairtrade is part of the long-term solution, but Fairtrade alone cannot solve deep-rooted supply chain problems that exploit the poorest. Even with Fairtrade certification, working on a banana plantation or a coffee farm is hard. There is no sunny side to trade injustice. So the fight goes on.” 

If you live in East Staffordshire we’d love your help to promote the Fairtrade message, but wherever you are in the country please look for your nearest Fairtrade volunteer group, or just look for the labels when you are shopping.