Fair Trade Primer

These days I live, eat, and wear fair trade. I am so used to buying from fair trade suppliers that I had forgotten, until recently, that it was only a few years ago that I didn’t even know what Fair Trade was. So for the benefit of those of you who would love to be part of fair trade, if only you had the faintest idea what it was and how to get involved, I have written this introduction to fair trade. Welcome to Fair Trade 101.

The basic idea behind fair trade is simple: Growers should get a fair price for their produce. Ordinarily the price of produce such as coffee, tea, cocoa beans, cotton and rice is dependent on market forces, and susceptible to the machiavellian machinations of big companies who are keen to push the price as low as it can go. The profit from your tea, coffee and chocolate generally goes into the pockets of big companies and their share holders, while farmers often live on, or below, the poverty line.  Fair Trade certification guarantees that the farmers who produced the food have been paid a fair price for it.

On top of that, fair trade certification adds a “fair trade premium” to the price, that the community then uses for health, education, basic sanitation, or whatever their highest priorities are. Fair trade farmers have to be organised into some sort of collective, and they must be self-determined – in other words, the farmers and their community decide what to spend the fair trade premium on. It’s not imposed on them from outside.

Fair trade certification also guarantees minimum sustainability standards – farmers must farm in a sustainable way that does no long term damage to the environment. It’s not necessarily organic, but it is a big step up from conventional farming practices, and farmers that do choose to go organic get paid an extra premium for it.

Sadly there is a bigger issue, that pushed me into fair trade in the first place, which is that non fair trade certified goods are often produced with child labour, forced labour, and even slave labour. Workers (many of them children) are sometimes forced to apply pesticides with no protective equipment, and any costs that can be cut will be, regardless of the health and safety of the workforce. I can’t justify drinking tea produced with slave labour, so that’s why I only drink fair trade tea and coffee, and eat fair trade chocolate.

The good news is that fair trade products are getting easier to find. Mainstream supermarkets like Coles and Woolworths usually stock fair trade tea, coffee and chocolate as a matter of course these days. Cocolo and Alter-Eco are very tasty chocolate brands that are easily available, and even Cadbury’s is introducing Fair Trade chocolate, by sourcing all of its “dairy milk” range  from fair trade certified suppliers (that hasn’t happened yet, but it is in the process of happening – keep an eye out for the Fair Trade logo!). Supporting Fair Trade is as simple as buying fair trade certified products during your usual supermarket shop.

You can also buy a huge range of fair trade gifts from places like The Oxfam Shop . For more info on fair trade, check out The Fair Trade Association of Australia & NZ, and they have a great page showing where to buy Fair Trade.

The other big thing you can do is ask your favourite cafe whether their tea, coffee and chocolate is fair trade. Just asking the question can motivate them to look into fair trade, and maybe support it. The more people ask the question, the faster and wider fair trade will spread. The bottom line is that fair trade means better living standards, better health and education, and a fairer, more sustainable world. What could be better?

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One thought on “Fair Trade Primer

  1. Pingback: Life wasn’t meant. « Exploring life, parenting, and social justice

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