Does Fair Trade make a difference?
The Story of Fair trade Coffee and What it Really Means
Although there are now many Fairtrade products available on the shelves of stores the movement began with what may still be the offering most familiar to consumers if you ask them about the initiative; fair trade coffee.
Global Coffee Facts
Legend has it that the fact that the beans from the coffee bean tree could be used to create a tasty and energizing beverage was first discovered by weary goat-herders in the Kaffa province of Ethiopia. Although that story is not formally documented the fact that 12th century Yemenites seeking a way to stay up all night to pray turned to coffee to do so is. And the rest, as they say, is history. By the 16th century, coffee was being widely consumed in Africa and the East and it had even made its way to Europe where it quickly became the fashionable choice of the wealthy.
These days of course coffee is a staple that many of us could not imagine starting the day without. Global coffee consumption has in fact doubled in just over 40 years, leaping from 4.2m tons in 1970 to 8.8m tons in 2014 and the US is the world’s largest consumer of imported coffee. Chains like Starbucks make billions and even fast food restaurants like McDonalds have entered the gourmet coffee arena successfully.
If there is one thing that’s for sure it’s that we love our coffee. We just really don’t usually have much of an idea what goes into growing and making it or what challenges and difficulties coffee growers face. And there are far more than just a few.
Coffee and the Fairtrade Initiative
As we just mentioned, it was coffee that got the concept of fair trade off the ground in the first place. Although coffee is grown, harvested and produced in more than 70 countries worldwide 70% of it comes from Latin America. And when global coffee prices crashed in the late 1980s many coffee farmers in the region were left in dire straits, forced to accept less than half per pound than just a few months before.
All of this led to the creation of the very first Fairtrade product. An initiative of the Dutch development agency Solidaridad, Max Havelaar coffee, produced by Mexican coffee farmers, hit the shelves of Dutch supermarkets in 1989 and the idea has spread far and wide ever since. The coffee, by the way, was named after the main protagonist in a transformational Dutch novel of the same named that helped change the unfair policies and grueling conditions workers faced in the Dutch colonies in the 19th century, making it very appropriate for use in this situation.
What Fair Trade Does for Coffee Farmers
At the heart of the initiative as it applies to coffee growers is an assurance that under the fairtrade system they will always be guaranteed the Fairtrade Minimum Price for their goods, along with extra money – around 20 cents per pound – that is to be used specifically to grow the business. In addition, organic coffee farmers receive an additional 30 cents per pound as long as their farming methods meet the accepted standards for organic produce.
What this means that even if the global coffee market fluctuates significantly, which it has several times since the crash of the Eighties, these smaller producers are still assured of a fair return on all of their hard work, safeguarding their businesses for the future and allowing for much-needed growth.
As is the case for all Fair trade certified offerings in order to remain in the program providers must meet certification standards at all times. These include rules on minimum wages paid to workers, sustainable farming practices and the assurance of a discrimination-free workplace for women.
More Than Just a Fair Price
Fair trade does provide more to coffee farmers than a fair price, though. Some may be able to access Fairtrade Premium, a source of additional capital to help improve infrastructures and provide worker education. There are also a wealth of educational resources available to all that help coffee farmers from all over the world remain competitive in an ever-changing market.
So, the next time you are in the coffee aisle at the supermarket and are faced with a choice between a big name brand and a fair trade coffee remember that by deciding on the latter you will not only be getting a great cup of coffee but your dollars will be making a real difference in someone’s life far away as well..
What is Fairtrade and Why Should You Care?
No doubt you’ve seen the Fairtrade label on goods and products in supermarkets, grocery stores, maybe even clothing and home goods stores, more than once or twice before. You may have even purchased one or two Fairtrade products in the past. But how much do you really know about the concept behind the label and what it really means to the both you, the consumer and the people who bring the product to you in the first place?
A Helping Hand, Not Charity
Some people mistakenly believe that Fairtrade is a charitable effort of some sort, the kind that disperses aid to the disadvantaged. That could not, however, be further from the truth. Fairtrade is all about business but also about securing fair pricing, better working conditions and greater independence for farmers and workers from all over the world.
Many of the providers do indeed come from some of the most marginalized and disadvantaged communities in the world, but rather than simply handing over aid money Fairtrade gives them the chance to grow their own businesses and improve not only their own lives but that of everyone else in their communities, from the inside out.
What Fairtrade Means for Providers
When those who work within the Fairtrade system say that it changes lives they are not exaggerating in any way. Not just the lives of the farmers, craftspeople, and other providers but also their family, their friends, their entire town or village.
By being allowed to use the skills and knowledge they already possess to grow a real business, one that can be passed down from generation to generation, people – and it is both men and women – are taking their future into their own hands rather than waiting and hoping that someone else will come along and do it for them. And, as a sort of added bonus, the farming and production practices of smaller scale farmers, growers and craftspeople is almost inevitably far more eco-friendly and, once again, that benefits far more people than just one or two, it can actually benefit everyone on the planet.
The movement has proved to be of particular benefit to women. While it is traditional that women perform much of the work on plantations, farms and in factories in many countries they also face discrimination, harassment, and even abuse while doing so. When empowered thanks to the Fairtrade initiative they can receive proper healthcare, protection from discrimination, pursue educational opportunities and some do start their own businesses, providing them with financial freedom their grandmothers, and even mothers, might never have thought was even possible.
What Fairtrade Means for Consumers
The big question for you, of course, is probably why should I seek out and buy Fair trade products? Well, there are the obvious reasons; your purchase is truly helping others, by opting for Fairtrade you will be helping a good idea become an even bigger and better idea and you will be making a difference in someone’s life that is tangible and rather easy to understand. Opting to spend your money on, say, Fairtrade certified coffee rather than Starbucks or another big name corporate brand may seem like a very small thing to do but the impact is far greater than you might know, especially if you encourage your friends and family to do the same thing.
But there is something ‘in it for you’ as well. Fairtrade certified produce is free of any genetically engineered ingredients and must, in order to meet certification standards, be cultivated with minimal use of pesticides and artificial fertilizers. In addition, all certified providers are required to meet strict standards in terms of water and waste management, worker conditions and energy use. All of these things are good for the environment and though that environment may be far away from where you live by now we all know that the ‘knock-on’ effects of environmental bad practices – and conversely environmentally sound practices – will end up affecting everyone, no matter where they live. So that one simple purchase choice actually has plenty of upside for you and your family too, aside from the fact you’ll get some great stuff!
The average consumer is often turned off from buying fair trade products upon learning that the prices are higher than commercial ones. The prices go higher still when the products are sold at specialty shops instead of regular stores. Just how is a product priced?
Fair Trade Certification
When a product obtains certification the minimum price is often set by certain standards. The minimum price of the product is the amount that a buyer, a wholesaler for example, has to pay the producers who made the product. Unlike other commercial items, the price of fair trade products is not fixed. Since it aims for producers to practice sustainable production the minimum is set at the cost that covers the production. This ensures that even if the market price for that product falls below the minimum set, the farmers will not be at a loss. Thus it plays the role of a safety net. However if the market price goes way above the minimum level then the buyer has to pay the producers the current market price. In addition both the wholesalers and producers can negotiate for a higher price if it is determined that the product is of high quality, among other requirements.
Fair Trade Products for sale
Because the idea of fair trade is to cut the distribution chain, it does not answer why some of the products remain to be sold at a higher price. Thus aside from the price of the fair trade products, it is agreed upon by the producers and wholesalers, the agencies though the FLO Standards Unit puts an additional price on top of it. This may seem counterproductive since the price of the product will obviously be higher than the current market price.
Fair Trade adds improvement to communities
There is however a purpose why a premium is added. The income from the premium is used as investment capital in order to develop projects geared for the producers and workers economic, environmental and social improvement. For example, the amount can be invested to build schools and their communities in the area where the products are manufactured. It can also be used to build or improvement facilities that will help in increasing the yield or enhancing the quality. By focusing on improvements in the area it is envisioned that the income of the producers and the wholesalers increase.
So the next time you hesitate on buying fair trade products because of its price, give it a second thought. Buying Fair Trade products not only means that you help the environment but it also means that you are helping people lead better lives.
Many groups are always talking about the advantages but only a few out there who actually admit that there are also disadvantages of fair trade. Their claims actually have merit given that it is rare for something to have purely positive effects and no negative ones.
Fair Trade ProductsFair Indigo Organic Pima Cotton Long-sleeve Scoopneck Tee
Though many developing countries are continuing to sell their products on the market most of them continue to be sold as specialized products. Despite their best efforts, only a few have managed to reach the mainstream distribution channels. An example is soap being sold through companies that sell fair trade product is clearly more environment friendly and would benefit not only consumers but also those who manufacture them. However these kinds of soaps remain to be sold in specialty shops and not much in commercial stores.
One solution suggested to counter this disadvantages is to offer online shopping. This is a good idea considering that the products are come from developing countries. The problem is that the price will likely go up due to shipping fees and may not be affordable to the average consumer who just wants to buy one or two bars of soap.
Tariffs are a Disadvantage of Fair Trade
Tariffs or the tax put on exports and imports is another one of the disadvantages of fair trade. In most countries, the tariff for non-processed good remains lower than processed ones. What this means that instead of exporting roasted coffee for instance, a farmer may opt to simply export coffee beans in order to remain profitable. This choice however brings to light two issues. First the beans will be processed by another company which means it has lost its fair trade capability. Second because it will be more profitable to export raw materials or non-processed goods, developing countries may become hesitant to put up facilities needed for processing. Not only do they lose to multinational companies but they also encumber their possible development.
Fair Trade Certification
Another issue is on the use of the certification. An example is when a farmer decide to export the coffee beans. The company that buys the beans can have the Fair Trade certification on its final product, but it is the one that enjoys all the benefits derived from it. Companies using the certification also tend to confuse consumers as to where the products actually comes from. One can argue that this is unfair but it is hard to find a legal way to stop it.
Disadvantages of Fair Trade has a long way to go
The world still has a very long way to go if we are to fully maximize what fair trade is all about. Despite the disadvantages of fair trade, it is important to keep in mind that there will always be ways to solve these disadvantages.
In order for a product to be considered as belonging by the fair trade definition, it has to have what is called a fair trade certification. If fair trade clothing and products have this certification then it tells consumers that the seller is committed to the concept of fairtrade. It also makes the consumers trust the product more and also increases the likelihood of the conscious consumer to purchase the items. There is no need therefore for consumers to have to do research regarding the product because they know that they can put trust in the act because of the Fair Trade Certification.
Fair Trade Certification
Aside from giving consumers trust, a certification allows products to be differentiated from others. This in turn gives them the much needed competitive advantage over other commercial products in the market. Competitive advantage because it gives everyone involved their own brand, so to speak. This means that from the producers and workers down to the wholesalers and the retailers, everyone gets to enjoy the benefits. Without this label, these groups would have to contend with multinational companies who spend a large amount of money just to create a brand that consumers will identify and buy.
Labelling or branding further helps in creating standards for the different products. Think of it as an ISO Certification but instead of companies it is put into products. One good thing about certification is that it is not rigid like the others. The standards set are flexible and can be changed when the need arises. Thus if there are changes in the market, the standards are revised in order to keep it updated and in line with the latest trends in fair trade.
There is no one specific group or agency that hands out a fair trade certification. In the U.S., certification is given out by the group TransFair USA. Fair Trade organizations like TransFair USA is in fact the one in charge of certifying products in the North America region. The group certifies products such as chocolate, tea, coffee and other agricultural goods. The group even certifies processed food like canned juice, energy drinks, chocolate and ice cream, among others.
In Europe, the task of certifying products is done by FLO-CERT GmbH. Working hand in hand with FLO International the certifying group gives out certification to Fair Trade products in more than seventy nations worldwide.
Technology and fair trade at first glance seems to be on opposite poles. Presently it has been largely associated with handicrafts, agricultural products and food items. There is, however, an industry that is just ripe for inclusion in this movement, this is the field of electronics.
Can Technology and Fair Trade Happen?
Electronic items like microchips are by nature artificial materials, meaning they are made using a combination of other raw materials. People often relate electronics with gadgets like cellular phones, laptops and many others.
Few people know that the components for the gadgets they buy are in reality being manufactured in developing countries. In some cases even the assembly of the gadgets is done in the same countries. People who do this work are exposed to an environment that is not only stressful but even unhealthy. To add insult to injury the wages the workers receive are relatively low compared to the prices the gadgets are being sold.
By inculcating the concept of fair trade the electronics sector will not only benefit the companies in it but also the workers. Consider the fact that to make one electronic gadget, say a cell phone, a lot of companies are involved in the manufacturing process, from the LCD screen to the casing of the phone. If a company were to have this certification then it implies that everyone involved must also have certification. The result is a gadget that carries this certification, means that consumers will put their trust on the product and are more likely to buy it. This increases the profits of the company as well as the earnings of the workers. This is but one example of how technology and fair trade can work hand-in-hand.
A Competitive Advantage
Another advantage of having this certification is that this will differentiate the company from its competitors giving them a competitive advantage. Electronic companies nowadays are doing their best to tell consumers that their products are “Eco-friendly” or “environment-friendly.” What better way to boost that claim than by having a fair trade certification?
Don’t Limit Fair Trade Products
With the fast pace in the improvement of technology, people will have to decide sooner or later that indeed electronics can be part of the movement. Fair trade products need not be limited to agricultural or handicrafts, technology and fair trade is the next step and is waiting just around the corner..