While there are many products you may have to think twice about purchasing, or should avoid if possible, there is one type of product you can always count on.
Those products are fair trade certified products, and they can help in the mission to become an ethical consumer. “Fair trade standards are established by Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO) and address social and economic development, environmental management, and labor conditions of Fair Trade farms” (TransFair USA). The strength of fair trade is that it helps the producer and the consumer. “You’d be forgiven for thinking Fair Trade was about the price, but it isn’t. 100% Fair Trade is about relationships. Relationships between people both locally and globally, relationships between organisations up and down the supply chain, and the relationships between the consumer and producer” (World Fair Trade Day). When you purchase fair trade products you are supporting their 10 standards, many of which address basic human rights and match up with many modern desires.
“Organizations who buy Fair Trade products from producer groups either directly or through intermediaries ensure that no forced labor is used in production and the producer complies with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and national / local law on the employment of children” (World Fair Trade Organization). People and their rights are the main focus of these standards. “100% Fair Trade is a total commitment between people to deliver a prosperous and sustainable future for the good of the planet and for the good of mankind” (World Fair Trade Day). It’s also about helping impoverished people. “The organization supports marginalized small producers, whether these are independent family businesses, or grouped in associations or co-operatives. It seeks to enable them to move from income insecurity and poverty to economic self-sufficiency and ownership. The trade supports community development” (World Fair Trade Organization). The organizations which are approved by the World Fair Trade organization are held to many standards which are intended to better the lives of employees. “The organization respects the right of all employees to form and join trade unions of their choice and to bargain collectively. Where the right to join trade unions and bargain collectively is restricted by law and/or political environment, the organization will enable means of independent and free association and bargaining for employees” (World Fair Trade Organization). The companies are monitored to ensure that these conditions, among many others, are met.
In America, the Fair Trade Federation was established in 1994 as the North American Alternative Trade Organization, or NAATO. The name was switched to the Fair Trade Federation in 1995. “Fair trade seeks to change the lives of the poorest of the poor who frequently lack alternative sources of income. As North American fair trade organizations grow, they employ more and more individuals in their communities” (Fair Trade Federation). Rather than taking American jobs to other countries, as you may suspect, the products represented by these organizations aren’t necessarily in production in North America. You also don’t have to worry about the prices of these goods being too much more than normal prices. “Most fair trade products are competitively priced in relation to their conventional counterparts. Fair trade organizations work directly with producers, cutting out exploitative middlemen, so they can keep products affordable for consumers…” (Fair Trade Federation). This form of trade is about making life better for all people, and for fostering balance and self-sustainability. “The Federation envisions a just and sustainable global economic system in which purchasing and production choices are made with the concern for the well-being of people and the environment, creating a world where all people have viable economic options to meet their own needs”(Fair Trade Federation).
In the UK the FairTrade Foundation was established in 1992. “Our vision is a world in which justice and sustainable development are at the heart of trade structures and practices so that everyone, through their work, can maintain a decent and dignified livelihood and develop their full potential” (Fair Trade Foundation). Since 1998 the sales of Fairtrade certified products in the United Kingdom have increased from 16.7 million to 799 million, in 2009. In 2008, FairTrade’s organization found that 70% of people recognize the FairTrade symbol (see below). They also found that 1 in 4 shoppers are consistently buying products with the FairTrade Label (Fair Trade Foundation). These trends are continually expanding. On May 11th, 2010, Fair Trade Foundation published a press release saying that a recent “survey showed that Fairtrade clearly adds value to products and strongly impacts on people’s intention to buy. An overwhelming 90% of active ethical consumers say the FAIRTRADE Mark on pack helps the product create a positive impression and many say it makes them more likely to buy specific brand. What’s more, over 60% of existing purchasers are likely to recommend Fairtrade to friends and colleagues” (Fair Trade Foundation). These increasing numbers can say only good things for Fair Trade’s progress.
As a consumer you can become more ethical by looking for these labels on products you regularly shop for. Some popular fair trade items are coffee, tea and herbs, cocoa and chocolate, fresh fruit, sugar, rice, vanilla, flowers and honey (TransFair USA). The Fairtrade Labelling Organization says there are “…thousands of products that carry the FairTrade mark. Fairtrade standards exist for food products ranging from tea and coffee to fresh fruits and nuts. There are also standards for non-food products such as flowers and plants, sports balls and seed cotton.” (Fairtrade Labelling Organization) While you may not be able to find all the products you’re looking for in Fair Trade form, you have to start somewhere. Ethical consumerism is about taking the small steps necessary to make a big difference, in your life and in lives all over the world.
By: Hailee Monk