What is fair trade?

On Friday 24 September the Fair-trade Foundation won the Charity of the Year award at the Fifth Annual UK Charity Awards ceremony. This year’s winners included stories of personal courage and dedication in every field of not-for-profit endeavour.

The Fair-trade Foundation is currently celebrating its 10th anniversary reaching 5 million farmers and their families across 48 countries. Set-up in the early 1990s, the first product with the FAIRTRADE Mark appeared on supermarket shelves in 1994. There are now 300 Fair-trade products in product categories that include coffee, tea, cocoa, chocolate, snacks and biscuits, sugar, honey, fruit juice and fresh fruit. According to the latest MORI poll conducted in March 2005, 39 per cent of the UK public now recognise the FAIRTRADE Mark and sales, which are expected to exceed £100m for 2004, increasing by 50 per cent year on year.

What exactly is Fair trade? One definition suggests that it, ‘improves lives through fair wages, long term partnerships, environmental stewardship, democratic decision making and cultural connections’. Fair trade is a growing, international movement that can help to ensure that producers in poor countries get a fair deal. This means a fair price for their goods, covering the cost of production, guaranteeing a living income, establishing long-term contracts (which provide real security) and for many, support to gain the knowledge and skills that they need to develop their businesses and increase sales.

The ethics sound great and sincere. There is certainly more we can do. For example, it gives consumers like us an opportunity to use our purchasing power to tilt the balance, however slightly, in favour of the poor. However, Fair Trade cannot solely address the crisis faced by millions of small-scale farmers and producers whose livelihoods are threatened by low commodity prices and unfair competition from rich countries. This can only be achieved by changing unfair rules of world trade so that they work for small-scale producers and rich multinationals.

I once wrote about the unfairness of workers based in greenhouses (producing low UK supermarket flower bouquets) in Africa that have no access to health safety, yet consumers want to pay a low price. There appears to be no sacrifice or compromise amongst richer nations to help developing economies. It is as if we are all conditioned to ‘fight’ for low inflation and high debt, instead of balancing the needs of world communities. We need to ask our parliaments: why is there a reluctance by world banks to free debt from developing countries yet endorse purchasing of arms?

To encourage fair-trade at your supermarket do not be afraid to voice your opinion on the non-availability of fair trade products. If you cannot locate any on the shelves leave a comment in a comments box or book, and/or speak to a manager. Be specific about what you want, and let them know you shop there regularly.Visit: http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/products.htm to discover fair trade products. Remember, you have the power to help others.

Categories: 2004

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