From February 25th to March 10th, it’s Fairtrade Fortnight. Time to dedicate a little thought to the contents of your shopping basket, whether you’re stocking up on fruit and veg, looking for a new morning coffee to try or scouting new clothes for the changing seasons.
Some high street shops have plenty of Fairtrade produce, while others have hardly any at all. If you’re not sure why that’s worth thinking about, or could just do with a little nudge back in the Fairtrade direction after being drawn away by impossibly low prices on other alternatives, here’s some information on what it all means.
What is Fairtrade?
Fairtrade-certified goods help to ensure that the people producing your purchases are paid fairly for their work – cocoa and coffee farmers, for example, or the people who grow, pick and pack the bananas you’ll eventually buy from a high street supermarket on the other side of the world.
For a product to carry the Fairtrade logo, everyone involved in bringing it to existence must have gotten a ‘fair’ deal. This certification ensures that worker’s rights and wages are protected, meaning a step away from Nestle-esque horror stories of child labour, and of underpaid employees forced to sleep at work between gruelling, unsafe shifts.
Here’s the Fairtrade Foundation‘s official statement:
“Fairtrade is about better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world. By requiring companies to pay sustainable prices (which must never fall lower than the market price), Fairtrade addresses the injustices of conventional trade, which traditionally discriminates against the poorest, weakest producers. It enables them to improve their position and have more control over their lives.
With Fairtrade you have the power to change the world every day. With simple shopping choices you can get farmers a better deal. And that means they can make their own decisions, control their future and lead the dignified life everyone deserves.”
An international food chain
While shopping as locally as possible is a great way to stay conscious of where your money goes, lining the pockets of independent businesses rather than multinational chains, it can be a challenge when you’re on a tight budget. The little guys don’t have the same bulk-buying discount power that massive corporations have.
Only shopping local can also limit the products you buy – here in the UK we might be known for our love of tea, but we just don’t have the climate to grow it. Instead, we import from places all over the world where the things we want are grown in abundance. But the companies sourcing those items for us don’t always play fair. Small-scale farmers are often exploited, and a love of cheap goods in some parts of the world can exacerbate and prolong poverty in others.
Fact: Bananas are the UK’s favourite fruit, and more than 5 billion are sold here each year. But while production costs have doubled, retail prices have halved in recent years, meaning banana farmers around the world are worse off than ever before.
When it comes to buying things like chocolate, exotic fruit, tea and coffee, most of us head to the nearest supermarket to stock up and base our decisions on price first and foremost. When it comes to fashion, it might not even cross your mind that even in a shop where the people stitching the clothes are paid well, the people farming the cotton your t-shirt is made from could be getting a seriously raw deal.
In honour of this year’s Fairtrade Fortnight, here are a few notes on what the UK high street has to offer.
UK Supermarkets: Best and Worst
If non-Fairtrade items mean farmers living in poverty and a risk of child labour, surely all of our chocolate, coffee and so on has to be Fairtrade… right?
Sadly, a demand for the cheapest possible goods means that plenty of supermarkets still overlook Fairtrade in favour of sourcing their fruit, veg and other items from supply chains where workers aren’t properly paid or supported. So who’s doing things well, and who is lagging behind?
The Best: Sainsbury’s, Waitrose/Ocado, The Co-Op
- Sainsbury’s state that they are the world’s largest retailer of Fairtrade products. While they’ve recently done a bit of re-labelling and adopted their own ‘Fairly Traded’ branding in place of the better-known Fairtrade logo, you’ll be pleased to hear that all of their bananas are Fairtrade, their own brand chocolates, wines, sugars and teas are Fairtrade – you name it, it’s exploitation-free.
- Waitrose have also completely removed non-Fairtrade ‘nanas from sale, and their online equivalent, Ocado, offers only one non-Fairtrade option alonside seven fairer picks. Just like Sainsbury’s, the own-brand offerings come with a big emphasis on ethics and fair trading.
- The Co-Op are great at lots of things, like dedicating sections of each store to truly local goods and sourcing as much stock from within the UK as possible. They’ve also supported Fairtrade standards for more than 20 years, and anything own-brand that so much as contains cocoa, coffee, bananas etc uses Fairtrade items rather than less ethical alternatives.
The Worst: Tesco, Asda, Morrisons
These guys are all pretty rubbish when it comes to Fairtrade. While they do have bits and pieces that carry the logo, the vast majority of their stock is still lacking – despite the initiative having been around since the 90s, and despite there being an ever-increasing awareness of just how unfair non-Fairtrade bananas, chocolate and other things are.
I feel it’s worth also mentioning that these supermarkets, for the most part, pay as little attention to animal welfare as they to do human. As well as completely overlooking their chance to stock products that guarantee humans better working conditions and better pay, these three are all guilty of continuing to stock battery-farmed chicken’s eggs and meat from factory farms outed as having some of the poorest conditions around. Not cool.
Brands like Divine chocolate and Karma Kola do a great job of bringing Fairtrade goods to the masses, and there are plenty more like them. Taking the time to check a label and investing a few pennies extra here and there is a small change, but it can make a big difference to the people producing your food, drinks and even the cotton that becomes your clothes.