Fairtrade v’s fairly traded

Fairtrade Banana

In the race to cut global trade deals how will the conditions of workers across the world be considered by Theresa May’s new government. Millions of cocoa farmers in West Africa still live in extreme poverty, earning less than $1.25 a day and millions of coffee farmers still face a year-round struggle to feed themselves. Will new trade deals with countries such as those in West Africa have a positive or negative affect on those in the supply chain? Nobody knows of course but I got me thinking about Fairtrade in general. As the Fairtrade mark continue to be the flag carrier for ethical production we’re asked more and more what it all actually means.

Everyday my team are asked if we can supply fair trade products. Our answer is always the same; do you mean fairly traded or Fairtrade. Thus follows a long conversation in which we explain the difference. In this piece I hope to outline the differences between fair trade, Fairtrade and ethically sourced.

In simple terms, ethically sourced means goods that have been produced without exploitation of workers. Workers are employed of their own free will under safe conditions, paid a fair “living” wage and no children are employed. This generally refers to employees. Fair trade on the other hand refers more to the price paid for goods and more often than not it’s paid directly to the growers or association of growers, these aren’t employees but small farmers.

The success of the Fairtrade mark is the source of much confusion. This is the brand mark for one of many independent associations that ensure goods are ethically sourced. Some argue the term fair trade has been adopted as a generic term for ethically sourced because of their marks wide spread recognition. Some buyers now assume the Fairtrade mark will appear on anything they purchase that’s sold as fair trade.  As it can only be carried on items certified by the Fairtrade Foundation it’s important to clarify this from the outset. Suppliers of Fairtrade items must be licensees and pay a percentage of their sales revenue back to the Fairtrade Foundation.

As I have mentioned there are plenty of independent certification bodies that ensure goods are ethically sourced. Some cover broad product categories while others cover specific sectors. The Soil Association has a far-reaching certification program, the Fair Wear Foundation specializes in the clothing sector. Products certified by these other organisations may carry a label saying they are fairly traded or ethically sourced but none can carry the Fairtrade mark itself. It is important to point out this does not mean they are any better or worse as a result.

If goods carry a mark that isn’t the recognised Fairtrade logo but insinuates a worthiness in the production or supply chain do a little online research. It may well be that its genuine, just not as well recognised. In the current environment it’s very important to understand that just taking someone’s word for it is no longer good enough.

This article was first featured here in the October 2016 edition of PPD magazine.