I’ve been a long time supporter of Fair Trade thought I’d write about why.
Learning about Fair Trade
Many years ago I studied a politics degree. At University I was introduced to student societies and one form of student society was campaigning societies. Through the Ethical Trade society and later on Oxfam Outreach I campaigned on issues surrounding issues of inequality in global trade. Crops grown in deprived countries where being sold in richer countries. The suppliers of these products were being paid a tiny fraction of the final value of the product. Farmers growing things like chocolate and coffee were barely surviving, whilst corporations added value to these initial crops and then sold them on for a much higher final price. One issue that both the Ethical Trade Society and Oxfam Outreach at the University of Birmingham campaigned was supporting Fair Trade. Fair Trade is a certification scheme that guarantees producers of a whole host or products a minimum price for their goods, as well as paying a premium that is used to benefit the community. That premium could be spent on sending girls to school or investing in a water pump for the community. What matters is that the benefits are felt by those that are usually dealt the worst hand. At University I helped organise events with Oxfam Outreach and often attended events where we talked about how important Fair Trade was. If we were lucky we may have got some free Fair Trade chocolate too!
Demonstrating the value of Fair Trade
Whilst At Uni. I volunteered with a charity called Envision. Envision worked with young adults in sixth form on projects of their choosing. I mentored groups, trying to guide them in their decision making processes. One of the things I did with Envision was ran workshops on Fair Trade. There was a game where we gave students a bar of chocolate and I would ask them to divide the bar up in the way that the different people in the production of chocolate would be paid. The more pieces of chocolate they got the bigger the percentage of money that they would make from the sale of that chocolate bar, Most of the pupils were shocked at how little the growers of cocoa were paid. In the game, the growers of cocoa would receive one piece of chocolate, whereas the company that refined the chocolate and sold it would receive approximately ten pieces of chocolate. Chocolate sellers would add value to the cocoa and then sell it at a large profit, but the growers of cocoa would struggle to break even, and if there was a bad harvest or the chocolate sellers wanted to pay lower prices, the supplier of cocoa had no choice but to absorb these lower prices.
Studying Fair Trade
As part of my politics degree I studied a couple of modules of political economy. Political economy may have been the hardest modules of my degrees. There were mathematical concepts that I struggled to understand. One of the essays that I wrote was about Fair Trade. In 2006 there were not as many Fair Trade products as there are now, but Fair Trade Bananas were market leaders in the UK and Fair Trade Chocolate was a growing market. In my research I read about the positives and negatives of Fair Trade. Fair Trade was not perfect, but it introduced ethics into a neoliberal market place. Fair Trade made consumers conscious that their decisions have an effect on those growing the products that they were buying. Fair Trade introduced minimum standards, and prices that allowed suppliers to grow long term and invest in their local communities. Fair Trade suppliers were better able to cope with bad growing seasons and better able to negotiate terms with those buying their goods. From writing an essay on Fair Trade to this day I have bought Fair Trade products where available.
Central England Co-op
After University my campaigning switched onto environmental matters. I kept supporting Fair Trade by buying Fair Trade prodcuts. This was until I became involved with Central England Co-op (CEC). CEC are big supporters of Fair Trade, and often support Fair Trade in the community activities. CEC deliver Fair Trade talks to school children. Sometimes we give out Fair Trade chocolate at our stalls, and if there is any left over we get to take some home, which is a nice bonus. It shows CEC’s commitment to Fair Trade to being an ethical Supermarket. This past week the CEO of Central England Co-op Debbie Robinson spoke to the Birmingham Co-op History Group about her long history of supporting and working with Fair Trade suppliers. She saw first hand in her trips to Africa the difference that Fair Trade made to suppliers of Fair Trade products. CEC has a wide range of Fair Trade products, including some luxury items. The luxury items allow a bigger percentage of the sale to go to the suppliers. As part of the Western Region of CEC’s Membership Council I’m proud to support Fair Trade.
Fair Trade has taken a hit in recent years with long term supporters like Sainsbury’s and Cadbury moving away from the label. At a time when ethical consumerism is on the rise. Fair Trade’s position as the leading ethical label is under threat. Other labels ethical credentials are not as well verified as Fair Trades is. I think that it is important to continue to support Fair Trade. On top of my support as a consumer, I support businesses that deal in Fair Trade products. A couple of other Fair Trade companies that I support are Revolver World, and Shared Interest. Revolver World are the most ethical coffee selling company (Co-op) in the UK according to Ethical Consumer magazine. I’m a member investor of Revolver. Shared Interest is a Co-op that lends to producers across the world, helping them create or upscale Fair Trade businesses. I’ve lent money to Shared Interest and they lend the money to Fair Trade suppliers.
Fair Trade remains the ethical label that I look out for. I am proud to have supported Fair Trade as both a campaigner and consumer. I will continue to do so.