Fairtrade Certified quinoa producers in Ecuador. Photo by Dider Gentilhomme

By Jessica Kirby —

There are many ways to ring in spring, but none that will have the same global impact as Fair Trade Fortnight – Fairtrade Canada’s two-week, all out celebration of reigning fairness and decency down on the global marketplace.
We’ve all seen the stickers and fingered through the pamphlets, but what do we really know about the Fair Trade certification system and its impact on world commerce? Though coffee drinkers and banana fans will likely have a good idea of how Fairtrade International (FLO) and its members, including Fairtrade Canada, run their show, for many the concept appears to be more of a buzzword than an essential, life-changing system that affects 1.2 million farmers and workers worldwide.

Fair Trade 101

According to the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO), the Fair Trade system was developed to address injustices in the conventional trade process that discriminate against small scale producers and push them into marginalization. “This is evident in many poor countries where poverty and economic inequalities are persistent, largely due to the failure of conventional trade to deliver sustainable livelihoods to communities,” says the organization. “WFTO’s response to this failure is Fair Trade.” WFTO, Network of European Worldshops, European Fair Trade Association, and FLO operate under a shared Charter of Fair Trade Principles and two sets of economically relevant Standards to ensure small producers in developing nations receive fair, sustainable wages for their products, providing a safety net at times when world markets fall below a sustainable level. In addition to the Fairtrade price, an additional sum called the Fairtrade Premium is collected and earmarked for a communal fund workers and farmers use to improve their social, economic, and environmental conditions. Considered a trading partnership based on dialogue, transparency, and respect, Fair Trade still encompasses a change-focused component that seeks to change the rules and practice of contemporary trade and secure human, social, and environmental rights. “The FAIRTRADE Certification Mark, which applies to products rather than companies, aims to give disadvantaged small producers more control over their own lives,” says FLO. “It addresses the injustice of low prices by ensuring that producers receive fairer terms of trade and better prices—however unfair the conventional market is.”

Fair Trade: the Movement

Religious groups and politically-motivated NGOs first inspired fair trade initiatives in the 40s—these were focused primarily on establishing aid for developing nations by selling handicrafts to wealthy westerners. The first inkling of consciousness about a system to correct how consumerism in the West was affecting developing nations began in Europe in the 60s and was seen as a political movement against neo-imperialism. The movement differed from earlier attempts at establishing fair supply chains in that it called into question traditional trade methods; actually, it called them out as fundamentally flawed. Throughout the 60s and 70s, the idea grew legs, largely because Oxfam’s Helping by Selling program established in 1965 spanned the globe (and still does) and because fair trade hit the retail sector in 1969 when the first Worldshop launched in the Netherlands. In fact, ideas about how to bridge the world’s economies and create a stronger and fairer link between price and the cost of production blossomed until alternative trade organizations (ATOs) were running from sea to sea, attacking worker and farmer exploitation and foreign domination.

From Crafts to Commodities

By the 80s, westerners were growing weary of handicrafts and ATOs were faced with changing their direction or losing face. Fuelled by the collapse of the International Coffee Agreement in 1989, the fair trade coffee movement led the way to a new level of awareness and support of marginalized food producers in developing countries. Although coffee farmers became poster children for the new age of responsible consumerism, with coffee sales making up around 50 per cent of fair trade income, the wave of support caught momentum and soon included tea, dried fruits, sugar, fruit, rice, cocoa, spices, and nuts. By 2002 agricultural goods were responsible for 70 per cent of fairly traded items, with handicrafts down to around 25 per cent. When Oxfam abandoned crafts and hopped on board the food train that same year, the wave crested and the future of fairly traded commodity items was secured.

Label This

The first Fair Trade labelling initiative kicked off in 1988 with the Max Havelaar program in the Netherlands. The crux of its success was that it brought fairly traded goods out of specialty shops and into the general public—namely, grocery stores—opening up a world of awareness and adoption. Now, the public could see the label and even track the item’s point of production to ensure the path from factory to feast was an ethical one. Fair Trade labelling officially became “the new black” in the early 2000s when FLO launched its International Fairtrade Certification Mark, and then later divided into two independent bodies—FLO International, which oversees Fairtrade standards and provides producer business support, and FLO-Cert, which inspects and certified producer organizations. Today, FLO International covers more than 20 labelling initiatives and the list of fairly traded commodities has grown to include just about everything from quinoa to footballs.

Live it Up for Fair Trade

So who is ready to celebrate? May 1-15 is Fair Trade Fortnight, and World Fair Trade Day falls on May 10—either is an ideal opportunity to become more aware and spread the word about this important system that affects six million people world wide, including families and communities that benefit when we mindfully purchase fairly traded items. Maybe you own a business and make a point to talk about it with customers, draw attention to FairTrade items in your store, or kick up a full scale block party. Maybe you are a student who gets totally crazy like University of Ottawa grad student Lia Walsh, who, as part of Fairtrade Canada’s 2012 Step up for Fair Trade campaign, sent volunteers out to a Halloween street parade dressed in zombie makeup and banana suits. Or could you be the all powerful consumer, who forks over an extra two bucks for coffee that makes a difference in a developing community or refuses to buy non -Fairtrade chocolate in support of exploited cocoa workers the world over?

Discover the Power of You

This year’s Fair Trade Fortnight coincides with the launch of Fairtrade Canada’s The Power of You public engagement campaign focused on just how much power discerning consumers make on the state of global trade. The idea is to connect groups, organizations, and businesses on an international scale with long-lasting campaigns that feature self-inspired, individualized messages aimed at the real power discerned from choice. Fairtrade Canada is ready to act and offer support for bouncing off ideas and providing promotional materials. Reach out at communications@fairtrade.ca for ideas, support, and campaign updates. No matter what steps you take, bringing the eyes of your community to the social, economic, and environmental success of developing nations will make this the most refreshing spring of your life. What are you waiting for? 



Comments are closed.