How Fair is Fair Trade? Depends on who you talk to. The optimistic masses will say unequivocally “yes!” But in a complicated world driven by profit, no matter how noble the initial idea, one does have to wonder.
I, personally, look for fair trade when purchasing products I can’t buy locally. Bananas, tea, coffee, chocolate are some of those items. There are approximately 6000 fair trade products available to consumers, though, and keeping tabs on all those farms and all those buyers, is a mammoth undertaking.
What does Fair trade propose to do?
- guarantee farmers fair prices
- guarantee consumers the assurance that products were grown under fair labor conditions using environmentally sustainable methods
- allow for direct trade between the producers and the importers without costly middlemen
- encourage community development (farmers invest Fair Trade revenues into community projects like scholarships and organic certification)
If Fair Trade operates as it was intended, it allows us consumers to invest in the farms, communities and environments that need our help the most. While Fair Trade certification does not necessarily indicate that a product is organic, in all likelihood it is close to organic, if not the real deal. Small farmers can’t afford the chemicals or the means to applying the chemicals, plus Fair Trade practices demand that certified farmers grow their products in environmentally sustainable ways. Round up and
Miracle Gro are definitely not sustaining the
environment in any way.
Farms become Fair Trade certified by agreeing to the Fair Trade standards for labor conditions and environmental practices. They pay a fee for this certification. In return they receive a minimum fair trade price and steady customers which allows them to have some stability in what is, many times, an instable farming environment. Small farmers in third-world countries don’t have the access to consumers or the ability to get business loans that are necessary to stay in business and thrive. Fair Trade levels the playing field so they can compete with the big corporate farms that sometimes bully their way in to dominance.
Sure, there are definitely some people taking advantage of this system. Anywhere there is a system, someone will figure out a way to abuse it. But buying Fair Trade is a vote in favor of all that Fair Trade stands for – human dignity and respect for the environment. I’ll take my chances on my bananas’ origins and have faith that my purchase made a difference.