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Fairtrade- its good, isn’t it?

It seems I am one of the few people who care about what they eat and drink. Not just what things taste like, but what they contain, how they have been made and where they come from. On the one hand I am a bit obsessed about my health and wellbeing. At the same time I have become increasingly concerned with the ethical and environmental impact of all that I consume in life. You could say I have been an easy mark for the growing fair trade movement, especially with my love of chocolate and coffee! And until recently I have thought the increase in availability of fairtrade products nothing but a good thing. 

 

 

 

 

Let’s look at this critically. According to it’s own website (fairtrade.org.uk) the Fairtrade Foundation has certified over 3000 products in the UK- yet this is a relatively tiny segment of the retail market. The sad fact implicit in this is that all other retail trade is, or could be, un-fair. As a nation of consumers then we must make one of two assumptions. Either we all assume that businesses are operating in a just and fair manner throughout the supply chain, or we accept that un-fair trade is necessary for us to get what we want at the price we want. I’m not sure which I find worse- ignorance or complicity. And I fear we are all guilty of both.

 

 

In all fairness, the Fairtrade Foundation and its certification was established with the sole purpose of improving trading standards and increasing the available resources in developing countries. Yet on its website it recognises ‘that many farmers in the UK face similar issues’ and therefore need similar assistance and standards. Admirable as fair trade may be, it serves to starkly highlight how little regard we seem to have for producers and farmers in the developed world, who often need the same ethical and monetary treatment. For me the principles of fair trade should and need to apply equally and globally, within both the developed and developing world. 

 

 

We all know that UK farming and production has suffered. Supermarkets may tout ‘British’ as a byword for quality and excellence but this is no guarantee of being traded fairly. Milk, the cornerstone of most of the nation’s diet, is 100% British in all the major supermarkets- it’s cheap, and deliberately kept cheap. For years stores have payed as little as they can for it, putting many dairy farmers out of business, and concentrating production in the hands of fewer ‘super-farms’. To satisfy demand, both in price charged and quantity available, animal welfare is secondary and the quality of milk has declined. It is possible to buy milk for less than some bottled water, and those who regularly buy bottled water often don’t ‘trust’ the water from taps. I wonder, and doubt, if those same people avoid milk for the same reason.

 

 

I fully support the spirit and principle of fair trade, and applaud those companies who seek to pursue its lofty ambition. I worry however that it may have been hijacked by profiteering global businesses and used to blind us to the unfair practices that are far more prevalent throughout international trade and production. Let us not be convinced by a small range of Fairtrade goods that all is well. 

 

Despite one supermarket’s own-brand range, in today’s capitalist society, a low price rarely means good value.

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