As consumers, we have a lot of power to create change. By making the right choices when it comes to what we buy, we can make our world a better, fairer, more ethical place. We can remove our support for damaging commerce systems when we choose to buy fairtrade.
As much as possible, we should make purchasing decisions in full appreciation and understanding of the product’s history. We should look at the entire life cycles of each and every one of the products we buy, and ask ourselves whether they fit with key ethics. Such as care for our planet, and care for humanity.
When it comes to caring for humanity, we need to think about the impact on people, communities and individual businesses of the things we choose to buy. We have to ask ourselves whether the items really do represent fairness. Choosing to buy Fairtrade products is one of the steps we can take to care for humanity and promote fairness in business dealings. In this article, we'll explore what Fairtrade really means, and look at what it means to choose Fairtrade products.
Fairtrade is a global movement that seeks to improve conditions and local sustainability for farmers and workers – especially those in the developing world. Fairtrade seeks to ensure that farmers and workers are all safe, have good working conditions and treated fairly.
The global trade network is fraught with injustice. It traditionally discriminates against those with less financial or political clout. So those who have wealth continue to accumulate it, and those who have the least suffer the most.
Fairtrade helps to combat such injustices by requiring companies to pay sustainable prices (never below market value) for the products produced by those in their supply chains. Since farmers and producers in developing nations get fair prices, they are able to take back some power. They can make their own choices, control their own futures, and live the dignified, safe, secure lives that everyone deserves.
By committing to Fairtrade, companies can help to improve the social and economic well-being of the workers across the entire production chain. Consumers know, when they see this label, that the company takes into account the working conditions and workers.
We have a series of Fairtrade standards already developed. There are core standards manufacturers need to meet in order to be Fairtrade certified. These standards include:
By choosing Fairtrade products, you are making a statement as a consumer. You are saying that you are looking out for those who the system has disadvantaged. You are showing that you care about people, no matter where they live, and value all human life. And you are helping our world to become a more just and equal place.
It is important to understand that there are different standards applied in the assignment of the Fairtrade label. There is the trader standard, the climate standard, the textile standard and the Gold Standard.
There are certain standards, however, that are integral to all of the different Fairtrade standards/ certification schemes mentioned above. These are:
Small-scale producers adhering to Fairtrade standards must have a suitable organisational structure to bring products to market. There must be democratic decision-making processes. And the organisation must be transparent, inclusive, and not discriminate against any particular member or group.
Workers must have social rights and security. There must be training opportunities, non-discriminatory employment practices, absolutely no child labour or forced labour. Suitable health and safety conditions must be in place to protect the workforce.
In order to meet Fairtrade standards, buyers must pay a minimum Premium to growers/ producers. This will enable workers to improve the quality of their lives, and can also aid in improving the quality of life for others living in a local community. Those who receive the premium can themselves decide how best to spend it.
Buyers must also pre-finance where requested. Having access to capital means that producers can overcome one of the biggest hurdles in the way of sustainable development – access to funding. Access to capital will not only aid the producer themselves but can also have a huge knock-on effect in the surrounding community.
Fairtrade standards focus primarily on the social and economic pillars of sustainable development. But they also include requirements for environmentally sound agricultural and business practices. For example, minimized and safe use of agrochemicals, safe and effective waste management, the protection of soil, water and other resources, and no GMO crops.
Fairtrade standards do not require fully organic production. However, those who are fully organic are incentivised by higher Fairtrade minimum prices for products that are organically grown.
In addition to these common standards, there are also a number of different requirements that producers must meet to reach Fairtrade standards. And for the application of the Fairtrade certification.
When you choose to buy Fairtrade products, the Fairtrade labels that are applied to products can serve as a guide. When a product has a fairtrade label, you can rest assured that manufacturers have complied with the applied standards.
Fairtrade standards (and Fairtrade labels) are applied to a wide range of products. Most commonly, you will see Fairtrade labels on food and drink products. You can buy a wide range of Fairtrade foods and drinks – from fruits and vegetables to cereals and grains, to tea and coffee – and more. Manufacturers also apply related but somewhat different standards to other items, such as textiles and clothing, and precious metals.
The Fairtrade label does not necessarily mean 'perfect' in sustainable terms. But it does mean that manufacturers and brands have taken significant steps in the right direction.
Looking for labels such as the Fairtrade label when you purchase certain items can help you to make the right decisions. It can somewhat simplify the minefield of trying to find the most sustainable products. It is not often easy to find out all the information you need. Especially to understand the true social, economic and environmental impact of the things you choose to buy. But labelling that shows conformity to an established set of standards can help you to make the most ethical decisions.
It is important to understand that while choosing Fairtrade products can be a step in the right direction, it is only part of the picture.
The Fairtrade label tells consumers a lot about where their purchases come from. It tells us that buying such products will not have a certain detrimental social or economic impact on the poor and vulnerable in developing nations.
Yes, Fairtrade standards do touch upon environmental issues. But it is important to understand that even when a producer is Fairtrade certified, they might not necessarily be implementing best practice when it comes to the environmental sphere. It is important to understand that, like any labelling or certification scheme, Fairtrade labelling does have its limitations. It is not a panacea for all the world's ills.
As mentioned above, Fair Trade standards do reward organic production. But though they must use them safely (and not put workers at risk), producers may well still be using synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides etc.. And these things will take their toll on our environment.
For this reason, it is best to look not only for Fairtrade labels but also for other labels that denote conformance with other sustainability criteria.
For example, you should look out for organic certifications, such as Soil Association Organic, and Global Organic Standards.
It is important not only to look for labels. But go on to read a little more about what exactly the criteria were for the award of the certification or label. Some standards are far more established and comprehensive than others. Some (like Fairtrade) focus mainly on people, while others are far more focussed on ecosystems and the wider world.
Making sure that you understand the different standards, certifications and labels you see on foods and other consumer goods can help you to make better, more informed decisions about the things that you buy.