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Why is Fair Trade Important?

January 08, 2020

Fair Trade Defined

Who better to define Fair Trade than Fairtrade International? As the name suggests, Fair Trade focuses on supporting the fair treatment and support of producers. When most people think of Fair Trade, they don’t think of accessories and textiles. They think of coffee and chocolate. It’s true that Fair Trade extends to different industries and we love to support producers of food related Fair Trade products such as well.

According to Fairtrade International, “Fairtrade’s approach enables farmers and workers to have more control over their lives and decide how to invest in their future…Fairtrade supports and challenges businesses and governments while connecting farmers and workers with the people who buy their products.”

If you’re a visual learner, have a look at the video below to learn more about Fair Trade and its benefits. 


Why Is Fair Trade Important?

With over 1.7 million workers and farmers involved with Fair Trade and its mission, and over 30,000 Fair Trade products offered worldwide, the approach is clearly an effective one being globally supported and actively implemented. With consumers increasingly demanding brands to focus on the ethical and sustainable production of products, Fair Trade is increasing in its popularity.

According to a study exploring how millennials interact with corporate social responsibility, “more than nine-in-10 Millennials would switch brands to one associated with a cause” (2015). The trend rings true for consumers of all ages, with customers seeking out responsibly sourced products. 

Fair Trade offers a direct response to this demand, providing customers with the ability to buy ethically produced goods. The corporate social responsibility underpinning Fair Trade and its mission as well as the rewarding nature for Fair Trade producers reflect the organization's international importance. Producers reap social, economic and environmental benefits by being Fair Trade certified. 

If you watched the aforementioned video, you would know that coffee bushes are volatile and highly sensitive to warming temperatures. With a one-degree rise, the coffee’s quality is undermined. With a two-degree rise, coffee bushes produce less beans due to climatic stress and with a three-degree rise, it’s possible the coffee bushes may die from excessive heat exposure. 

This example illustrates the difficult conditions producers are now faced with. Whilst many goods such as coffee and chocolate are produced in developing countries, heavily industrialized countries are the leading contributors to climate change. Unfortunately, despite this reality, its poorer countries relying on the seasons to produce good crops that are the most affected by climate change. Considering farmers are placed under increasing pressure due to irregular seasons and severe droughts, Fair Trade provides a well-needed source of stability in an increasingly unstable and tough market. 

Fair Trade Diagram

Facts and Figures About Fairtrade. Credit: Fairtrade International

As the graph above illustrates, the importance of Fair Trade is illustrated in recognizing the organization assists 1.66 million farmers and workers worldwide. Fair Trade supports equal opportunities for both women and men, especially in largely disadvantaged countries. Furthermore, with €158.3 million in revenue paid to producers, and growing, the economic benefits that Fair Trade provides its producers enable better living standards, increased opportunities and improved wellbeing.

Who Benefits from Fair Trade?

Customers expecting lower prices do so at the expense of producers’ livelihood and wellbeing. As supermarkets continue to offer cheap alternatives to quality products, the overall prices for commonly bought goods such as coffee and chocolate (typical Fair Trade products) are relatively low. However, the costs and manufacturing expenses involved in the production of these goods is expensive, placing an increased burden on the producers. Whilst consumers are increasingly choosing ethical brands which support fair wages and better living standards for farmers and workers, the rise of ‘bargains’, ‘deals’ and ‘specials’ has a direct impact on producers’ livelihood and wellbeing. Cheaper prices mean more stress for workers and less money for the time and resources they put towards producing their product. 

Fair Trade recognizes this international issue permeating markets and offers a viable and actionable solution to benefit both the customer and the producer.

The Fair Trade diagram below illustrates the organization’s approach is supportive on both a systemic level and an individual level. From manufacturer to exporter and consumer to producer, Fair Trade’s global strategy effectively acknowledges each party to ensure the system is beneficial for all.

 the fair trade system

The Fairtrade System. Credit: Fairtrade International

How Fair Trade Offers A Solution to Capitalism and Climate Change 

Whilst it may be tempting to consider climate change and capitalism as two separate entities, the opposite is true. As Naomi Klein’s ‘This Changes Everything’ effectively explains, “our economic system and our planetary system are now at war. Or, more accurately, our economy is at war with many forms of life on earth, including human life. What the climate needs to avoid collapse is a contraction in humanity’s use of resources; what our economic model demands to avoid collapse is unfettered expansion. Only one of these sets of rules can be changed, and it’s not the laws of nature” (2014). 

The economic model the industrialized world has founded itself upon and the climatic events we are now experiencing are intrinsically linked. The unsustainable nature of capitalism, with its focus on the pursuit of profit at the expense of all else and the direct impact this has on the natural world through the form of carbon emissions, chemicals, pollutants and other toxins are chapters from the same book. The environment is communicating to humanity one of the most fundamental messages of our entire existence. The continuation of the current economic system and the health of the planet are incompatible and thus, the choice is clear.

Fair Trade offers a sustainable solution to the far-reaching and global problem. While considering the aforementioned issue, it may seem as though a viable solution to such a catastrophic issue, deeply tied to every element of societal functioning, is near impossible to envision and then achieve. 

However, as author Adrienne Maree Brown explores in her book, ‘Pleasure Activism,’ effective changes can only be made once a problem is addressed and then an equally valuable and fitting solution is provided. Change cannot be made if the issue is simply stated without an actionable plan to overcome such. Fair Trade indeed embodies such pleasure activism by recognizing the fundamental issue within the market and providing an approach to ensure customer satisfaction as well as the fair treatment of farmers. 

Thus, Fair Trade is an example of a present day solution to the problem of both capitalism and climate change by addressing the three factors of sustainability; economic, social and environmental. 

The Verdict

In exploring the definition of Fair Trade as well as its importance and the benefits it offers both customers and producers worldwide, it’s clear supporting Fair Trade products is an endlessly rewarding decision to make. 

When we visit a store, the choice between a Fair Trade scarf and a cheap alternative may seem small but the decision influences the lives of workers worldwide. 

As a consumer, you have significant buying power. By supporting Fair Trade products exclusively, you’re sending a clear message; you support ethical, fair and sustainable brands. Repeat this action every day and your positive contribution multiplies. Take it one step further by helping other individuals to follow suit in supporting Fair Trade products and you’ve made a collective difference. Now that’s important! 

By: Sophia Llewellyn

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