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Buying Fairtrade Products - Does It Make A Difference?

By: Kathryn Senior PhD - Updated: 16 Jun 2011 | comments*Discuss
 
Fairtrade Developing Countries

Fairtrade products are widely available in supermarkets and many people never notice the label or understand what it means. But buying fair-trade products can make a real difference not only to producers in developing and resource poor countries, but also to the environment. Although not all fairtrade companies are Carbon Neutral, some are and buying into fairtrade products is environmentally and ethically superior to buying mass-produced goods from companies concerned only for their own profits.

What Is Fairtrade?

Fairtrade is a system of trading that was developed in the 1960s to help farmers, growers and producers in the developing world to get a fair price for the products exported from their countries. The concept was designed to allow small producers to export their products, not just large collectives, and to give consumers in other countries a range of products that were high quality and different from the mass produced items available from elsewhere.

In the UK, all products that are sold through the Fairtrade system are certified as being truly Fairtrade by the Fairtrade Foundation. They produce the marking system that you can see on the Fairtrade products sold in British Supermarkets.

The Fairtrade Marking System

This system was first started in the mid-1990s and the certification system now extends to thousands of products. Most of these are food and items such as crafts, jewellery and clothes don’t yet carry a label. Many of these items are from Fairtrade suppliers but the marking system for them has not yet been properly developed. This is likely to come in the future but, in the meantime, to be sure that you are buying a true Fairtrade product, it is important to buy items from a shop that is registered with the British Association for Fair Trade Shops (BAFTS).

Fairtrade Does Mean Eco-friendly

As well as showing that the product has been priced fairly, so that the producer is making sufficient money to support his or her family, the Fairtrade mark also denotes that it has been produced sustainably. This means that it does not use up large amounts of natural resources that cannot easily be replenished, and that the Carbon Footprint of the production process is as low as possible. Some Fairtrade products are actually produced by small local companies that are themselves carbon neutral.

The producers of Fairtrade goods and the companies who carry out the exporting, importing and distribution of the goods for sale need to keep to strict Fairtrade standards. Fairtrade has inspectors that check regularly that everything is being done properly, and it is only when all these conditions are met that the Fairtrade mark is released for use on that particular product. Suppliers and producers must show that they are not using chemical pesticides or fertilizers and this is checked every few months to ensure their production processes are both ethical and environmentally aware.

Where Can You Buy Fairtrade?

The number of shops in the UK that are offering fairtrade products is increasing all the time. The Fairtrade Foundation campaigns and promotes the products quite intensively, particularly in areas where there are few Fairtrade retailers. It is, however, the general buying public who are making the biggest difference. They often go into shops and ask for Fairtrade products, creating the demand and persuading retailers to find out more about the scheme, and then to stock some of the products, particularly the teas and coffees and chocolates that have become very popular.

Are Fairtrade Products More Expensive?

Obviously, if products are being sourced in a way that gives a fair price to the producers at the bottom of the chain, the cost to the consumer is not going to be cheap. The ethical standards that control the supply chain do ensure, however, that a fair price, rather than an extortionate price, is also paid for transport and distribution, so at the end of the chain the products are not priced out of the market. Retailers understand that some people will pay a premium for a product that is ethical and is sustainable from an environmental viewpoint.

Does Buying Fairtrade Make A Difference?

Yes, it does. Fairtrade products are now a worldwide phenomenon and, although the percentage of products sold worldwide that are fairtrade is relatively small, there is a large and growing market. The scheme makes a big difference to producers in developing countries and their families, and current estimates put the number of grassroots people that benefit at around 7.5 million. For the consumer, it is another way that they can use their environmental buying power to try to reduce their own carbon footprint.

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