Wednesday, May 21, 2008

What does the Fairtrade mark mean?

[written for University of Reading Student Newspaper, Spark,
for Fairtrade Fortnight 2006]

Many products in the UK carry the Fairtrade logo, but it is not often clear precisely what ‘being Fairtrade’ actually means, so I will try to explain what Fairtrade certification is and what the logo signifies. I will use the example of coffee growers, as that is probably one of the areas you will best recognise for Fairtrade, and also it is one of the biggest portions of the scheme.

In 1989, the world coffee market was decentralised and as a result, the prices crashed. A huge number of coffee growers now receive less money for their crop than it costs them to produce it, and in some cases get back barely half of their outlay. Indeed, growers are now receiving around one-quarter of what they were getting for their coffee beans 40 years ago and some 25 million people can no longer afford basic living costs. Yet, the roasters (the companies we recognise) are making bigger & bigger profits. Somehow, the fact that the poorest people in the world seem to be subsidising our coffee drinking doesn’t really seem fair, but what difference does being Fairtrade make?

Fairtrade certified products ensure that the growers have received at least a living wage for their work. This is above the standard market value and is a figure which is linked to the cost of production, meaning that growers can make the profit they need to feed their families, send their children to school and afford the cost of proper healthcare. For example, in 2003, coffee growers in Fairtrade schemes were paid between 2 and 3 times the going rate for their crop (around 120¢/lb, instead of 50¢/lb). The benefits to the individual farmers here is obvious, but there is another benefit to being part of a Fairtrade scheme, which is what is called the Social Premium. This is an additional 5¢/lb, which is paid, not to the individual farmer, but to their community and is spent of projects such as healthcare and education which benefits even more people. There are fairly?/ethically?traded goods which are not Fairtrade and it is often this social premium that is the difference. For example, all Green & Black’s chocolate provide the growers with a fair wage, but only their Maya Gold is certified Fairtrade. However, the best way to guarantee that growers have been paid fairly is to look out for the Fairtrade logo on the packaging.

Finally, aside from the benefits to the farmers though, there are also benefits to the consumer. There are tight quality criteria which producers have to meet before they can be certified as Fairtrade, meaning that Fairtrade coffee is often of a higher standard than non-Fairtrade produce. Also, because they cannot afford expensive agricultural chemicals, most Fairtrade farmers are producing pretty much organic coffee ‘by default’, meaning that it is better for the environment as well.

So, now you know how much of a difference Fairtrade can make to producers lives, would you consider making Fairtrade your habit? Keep an eye out for the logo!

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