What does Fairtrade mean?

Fairtrade holds multiple meanings depending on who you’re speaking to.

What do I think Fairtrade means? Well, before researching for this article fairtrade was simply a logo on a banana, chocolate bar or bag of coffee beans, which gave me comfort in knowing I was helping others. Ethical and sustainable certification of products is widely misunderstood which is why I made it my mission to delve a little bit deeper.

There is one thread tying most viewpoints on Fairtrade together and that’s the principle that Fairtrade provides welfare to producers, in particular, farmers, in developing countries.

Long before Fairtrade was explicitly coined and shaped as a social movement in the late 1940s, there were hints of the fair trade model being used by organisations, including the coffee company Hamodava. The development of fair trade reflected the increasing globalisation of trade which resulted in poor working conditions. After the social movement took off, The Fairtrade Foundation began in 1992, which aimed to make improvements on an international scale.

Broadly speaking, fair trade has been described as a trade relationship based on dialogue, transparency and respect. However, these terms leave room for subjective implementation which means that it could be hard to regulate and make sure everyone is adhering to the same standards. As a result, Fairtrade organisations have created a list of rules and regulations for businesses to adhere to.

What are these rules?

The Fairtrade Foundation has separated its standards into 6 areas: small producer organisations, hired labour, contract production, trader, climate and textile. These standards cover a range of issues relating to both environmental and social aspects of production. For instance, unlike many workers worldwide, fair trade workers are entitled to join unions – in fact, they are urged to form co-operatives and empower themselves.

Equally as refreshing, The Fairtrade Foundation sets a decent wage which is relative to the country and industry. This wage acts as a safety net for workers to stop their pay being docked if the market price decreases and is known as the ‘minimum’ fair trade price. On top of this, businesses can opt to pay a ‘premium’ which goes towards socio-economic developments, such as business or community investments.

It is undeniable that the impact of these standards has been incredible! The foundation has created fair trade relationships for over 1.65 million farmers and workers and providing 1,178 fair trade funded schools.

Fair trade and the environment

To some of us, environmental standards may feel slightly off topic when discussing fair trade, as it is predominantly thought of as an approach to ensuring human welfare. Yet The Fairtrade Foundation highlights how inseparable humans and the environment really are. The impacts of climate change are devastating for developing countries and can leave vulnerable communities in turmoil when trying to re-establish their livelihoods. This puts into perspective why fair trade has drawn up such strict carbon reducing principles.

Looking at the label

Do companies have to pay for a fair trade certification? Yes, a business has to pay the Fairtrade Foundation a percentage of their net sales to have its products adorned with the fair trade logo we know and love. What’s more, the higher net sales a business earns annually, the lower the percentage of their takings they have to contribute. These costs cover the resources needed for organisations to carry out auditing and compliance.

Whilst it is understandable that businesses will have to incur extra costs for selling fair trade products, they might have to determine whether they can sacrifice profits in order to afford certification. This means we as consumers may not recognise when businesses are acting ethically because the information isn’t always readily available to us in the nifty form of a label.

How we can move forward:

It is so important to see fair trade as more than just the label. It may be time consuming, but looking closer at a business ethos and its treatment of workers can be an incredibly beneficial way of deciding which brands to buy from. You may even discover smaller brands which aren’t fair trade certified but employ fair trade practices across their supply chain.

You can also use platforms such as The Good Shopping Guide which help people make informed decisions about which companies and brands are best for the planet, best for animals and best for people worldwide.

What other products are Fairtrade that we can look out for?

Expanding our awareness of fair trade could be a case of choosing to look for alternative and less well known Fairtrade products. There are so many out there to try, here are a few examples to get you started: King Soba rice noodles, Karma Cola, the better-known and well-loved Ben & Jerry’s ice cream… there’s even a Fairtrade quinoa vodka.

Try using shopping sites like the Ethical Superstore, have a browse and see what Fairtrade and ethical brands are out there (it’s great because they’ve done some of the work for you!)

Fairtrade is a foundation which although can be seen to isolate brands who do not have the funding to pay for the labelling or mean that brands have to push up the prices of their products, do an incredible amount of good in the world, pushing for equal rights and equal pay.

What are your thoughts on the Fairtrade foundation? And what would you like to hear more about? Comment below or tweet us at @revival_collect