It is a truth universally acknowledged that one should not read the comments on the internet.
However, I did read the comments on this article by the Guardian (celebrating the 500th Fairtrade Town in the UK). In the past, I’ve read comments on other articles about Fairtrade, with similar results – namely, ill-informed people slagging off Fairtrade and clearly not understanding the system. So even if they did have good, fair, rational points against Fairtrade … those get totally lost.
I’m guessing that even fairly well-informed people might not have an answer on the tip of their tongue when confronted by comments like this. So here’s my (attemptedly-comprehensive but not guaranteed) guide to Fairtrade – suggestions for improvement much appreciated, stick them in the comments 🙂
So. Fairtrade. This is how it works, guys.
Objection 1: “OMG, Fairtrade is a brand, it’s all about the profit, and why the hell are they involved with Nestle/Cadbury who are clearly EVIL!!!???”
Fairtrade is not a brand.
I’ll say that again, just in case you didn’t hear the first time:
Fairtrade is not a brand.
Fairtrade is, in fact, an international independent certification. And while we’re at it, a company is not Fairtrade certified, a product is Fairtrade certified. The product is certified if it meets the standards for certification (which you can find on the Fairtrade Labelling Organizations’ website). So yes, a company which you think is ‘EVIL!!!’ can have a product that’s Fairtrade certified. It doesn’t mean that the company is angelic. It means that that one product meets the standards. (And of course they shouldn’t refuse certification to a product of Nestle’s “because Nestle is evil”. If you have a standard, stick to it, don’t mess about with it.)
(Besides which, isn’t consumer pressure getting Cadbury, Nestle et al to make some products Fairtrade what we want? Isn’t that a good thing?)
ETA: This also means that going “OMG but it has PALM OIL in it so it’s not REALLY Fairtrade now is it???!!!” is similarly wrong.
Objection 2: “Yeah, but I bet it doesn’t ever help any farmers anyway. It’s bound to all be a scam, because it’s, like, popular and stuff, so obviously bad. Besides which, there was this one guy, he tried to sell me Fairtrade chocolate, but his shop wasn’t very good for fruit and vegetables so clearly Fairtrade sucks.”
Fairtrade helps farmers. This is how:
- Minimum pricing
- Ability to ask for pre-payment
- Encouraging long-term relationships between suppliers and buyers
- Fairtrade premium for community benefits
- Progress requirements
- Social development criteria
- Environmental development criteria
- Regulations on hired labour
I was going to try and explain them in detail, then realised that there was a reason why there’s a whole website dedicated to them: http://www.fairtrade.net/standards.html. Seriously. There is a LOT of information on there.
Objection 3: “But Fairtrade doesn’t solve the underlying problems of inequality / shake the world / it only helps a few people … so it’s wrong”
… Fairtrade doesn’t claim to be the solution to all of the world’s ills. It doesn’t even claim to be the solution to world poverty (which is a subsection of ‘all the world’s ills’) or anything like that.
It does provide a way for you, as a single consumer, to make a difference, right now, to people’s lives. It provides a way for you to say to them “I think it is important that you have clean water and enough to eat and the right to be heard”. It provides a way for you to say to companies – in the language of cash, which they listen to – “I think it is important that people are treated with respect and paid a living wage”.
That makes it worth having. It’s not the ultimate solution. It’s a part of the solution, AND it’s a part that you can make happen, right now. You don’t have to wait for governments to get their acts together or for things to go through miles of red tape or for exchange rates to change in someone’s favour or anything – you can make it happen. Now. That’s pretty cool.
As you may have gathered, I’m pretty pro-Fairtrade. The people in the photos on this page are too. Like this guy:
So there you have it. A brief summary of the key points. Now next time someone tells you that Fairtrade premiums don’t help anyone at all, ever, you can tell them that it enforces detailed standards that directly impact the lives of workers, and point them towards the websites to read the fine print for themselves.