Everyone’s heard the term Fair Trade. The words conjure images of coffee, chocolate and happy farmers with fresh produce advertised on a product. Most consumers know it's a good choice, but do we truly know exactly the reason why?
So what exactly is ‘fair trade’? And why do we sometimes see it spelled as ‘Fairtrade’? Fair trade refers to any system of trading based on the explicit principle of being ‘fair’ to poor producers. It is generally used to include both Fairtrade-certified and other products which might not have the Fairtrade mark. So then Fairtrade, on the other hand, is a product certification system that audits businesses and determines if they should be labelled as fair trade.In North America, it’s the Fairtrade organization that identifies products by whether they meet the standards of their ethical certification. And across the entire planet, there are about 1,700 Fairtrade-certified producer organizations spanning 73 countries. The entire Fairtrade system uses a program called Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) to determine how being part of Fairtrade is actually benefiting producer organizations and their members, and generate recommendations to support and increase the positive impact (also known as impact monitoring!). Paired with MEL, Fairtrade uses the Theory of Change to figure out the range of things Fairtrade does as a system and determine how they can create a desired immediate as well as long-term impact.
What most people don’t know is that fair trade commodities go beyond coffee and cocoa. There are actually about 6,000 products that can be qualified as fair trade and it’s so simple to find them! You just gotta look out for the Fairtrade mark these products would have displayed on their packaging. Let’s take a dive into some well-known and some not so well-known commodities that can be certified-Fairtrade.
Coffee is the most common product that we think of when we hear the term ‘fair trade’. Did you know an estimated 1.6 billion cups of coffee are brewed every single day? Worldwide, over 125 million people depend on coffee for their livelihoods, but unfortunately many are unable to earn a reliable living from this crop. Around the world, there are 25 million smallholders (small-scale farmers) who produce 70-80% of the world’s coffee. These coffee farmers are one of the reasons why Fairtrade focuses its efforts on small producer organizations. In addition, Fairtrade can help these smallholders negotiate better terms of trade and reach wider markets.
While chocolate is a sweet treat, the conditions that cocoa farmers face would leave you with a bitter taste. Most of the world’s cocoa is grown on small family farms, 70% of which are in West African countries like Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. Cocoa trees need a lot of care. We’re talking peak production levels by the fifth year (if all goes right). For all this hard work, cocoa farmers unfortunately gain very little from a very profitable global cocoa trade. Fairtrade works with 322,000 small-scale cocoa farmers and similar to coffee farmers, cocoa farmers receive a fair and stable payment despite the market fluctuations. Fairtrade Standards also work diligently to protect children and prohibit child labour common in this sector.
With the demand of more slow fashion brands, there is also a demand for fairtrade supplies and fabrics. This growing demand for Fairtrade fabric means tangible change for cotton farmers and textile workers in India and other countries. This change includes farmers and workers being able to make a living income, effectively contribute to supply chains and work using traditional farming practices (huge focus on organic production!) and being able to work in safe and fair environments. Currently common in fast fashion, garment workers and farmers are exposed to harsh chemicals needed to grow conventional cotton. Fairtrade cotton, on the other hand, encourages organic production using natural farming practices and less water. After all, cotton is the most widely used natural fibre in the textile sector and it should stay as natural as possible. Shopping at places like The Good Tee means that you’re supporting the growth of Fairtrade-certified cotton and more importantly you’re supporting the farmers and garment workers
The global sugar market is dominated by industrial-scale plantations. What this means is that when there are market price drops (which happen a lot in the sugar market), small-scale farmers in the Global South are marginalized and unable to earn a living income from their harvests. This leads to sugar being called the ‘hunger crop’ in many countries. Fairtrade helps cane farmers expand their access to global markets and find new opportunities for sales. While other Fairtrade products have a “Fairtrade Minimum Price” sugar does not because of the high market fluctuations caused by government subsidies.
Grape farming and wine-making are known to be strenuous and labour-intensive activities. And with high strain, poor labour standards and living conditions might exist for both small wine grape farmers and hired workers on large plantations. South Africa and Chile have the largest number of Fairtrade wine growers. Thanks to Fairtrade, these farmers are able to earn sustainable incomes, work in better conditions and support their communities.
- Herbs and Spices
Yes, those spices in your pantry can actually be certified Fairtrade! There are currently two companies that dominate the global spice and herb market- McCormick & Company, Inc. (annual revenue of $5.6 billion) and Povravka (annual revenue of $537 million). What does this mean for small-scale farmers living in remote areas? They have limited options for selling their products. As with other commodities, the price of herbs and spices have been forced downwards in recent years, leading to incomes and living conditions to deteriorate. With the help of Fairtrade, these small-scale farmers are given more opportunity and connections to grow in a worldwide supply chain.
There are very little formal health and safety measures in place for the millions of small-scale gold miners. These hazardous working conditions paired with the heavy use of toxic chemicals poses serious risks to the workers and the planet. Although jewellery retail prices have soared, the miners at the start of the complex supply chain for gold are negligible as traders seek to obtain gold as cheaply as possible. With the support of Fairtrade, these gold miners are provided with a set Minimum Price to ensure a livable income, as well as Fairtrade Standards put in place to define health and safety requirements. Thanks to Fairtrade gold, we’re seeing a lot more ethically produced jewellery businesses, like Able, Fair Trade Jewellery Co, and Omi Woods!
Fairtrade commodities make a huge difference. It’s more than just fair prices, it’s about creating a sustainable impact for three interconnected areas: economic, social and environmental. Businesses like The Good Tee, that are Fairtrade-certified, have a huge responsibility to uphold the Fairtrade Standards, policies and global advocacy work for better trade. That means in everything we do, we shed light on creating better livelihoods, fight against child labour and forced labour, and advocate for gender equality, workers’ rights and human rights. If you’re ready to be a part of the change, start by swapping your basic coffee, cocoa and cotton products for Fairtrade-certified brands. You’ll begin to notice the real difference you’re making for farmers and workers around the world!
Interested in learning more about Fairtrade? Click here to find out why The Good Tee became a Fairtrade-certified brand.