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A Brief Introduction to Fair Trade

A Brief Introduction to Fair Trade

As the owner of an Ethical Gift Shop, I am often asked to explain what Fair Trade is.  Over the years I have produced many fair trade information sheets and quizzes and have helped local schools with fair trade projects as here, in Scotland, Fair Trade is on the curriculum and is taught in schools as part of “Global Studies”.

So, for my very first blog, I thought I would just outline the basics of fair trade and try to explain it briefly and simply without too much jargon although it is quite a complicated subject and I can’t promise that some jargon won’t creep in!

Over the years the definition of what Fair Trade is has changed in keeping with current trends.  Today’s official definition of Fair Trade is:

Fair Trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers …” (www.wfto.com)

Fair Trade also contributes to better justice in world-wide trade by highlighting the need to change the rules of conventional trade.  It also proves that by putting people first, businesses can still be successful.  And it is a valuable tool in contributing to the fight against poverty, climate change and economic crises. (www.wfto.com) – Yes I believe climate change and global warming do exist!

So, what does all this mean?  Well, put simply, Fair Trade is a mechanism for change.  Ethical Trade makes sure that workers’ rights are protected but Fair Trade goes much further than this.  Fair Trade is about supporting whole communities.  Of course it is about making sure that men, women and disabled workers are protected and treated equally with rights similar to ours, such as fair wages and good conditions but it’s also about creating trade opportunities, capacity building, respecting the environment and giving something back into their communities.

Employers are given help to maintain good standards and conditions for their workers.  They are also given assistance with accessing markets, advertising and training.  Registered fair trade companies are paid a fair price for their products but as well as this, they are paid an additional fee called the Fairtrade Premium.  This money is put into a communal fund for workers to use, however they choose, for the benefit of their community.  Most workers choose what’s important to them; education, healthcare, infrastructure … the important thing here is, it’s the workers who choose how the premium is spent but it must be used to improve the social, economic and environmental welfare of their own community.  I like this idea … does it happen here in the UK?  Because I promote and sell the work of local artists and crafters as well as fair trade items and have jointly set up a charity knitting club that makes items to support local charities, I like to think that I am putting something back into my own community too – but it’s not quite the same thing, is it?

My shop is often referred to as a charity shop.  Fair Trade is not charity; it is about affording people employment and an opportunity to work themselves out of poverty.  It depends entirely on consumers making informed choices when buying products.  It is the consumer’s purchasing power that provides support to workers which in turn creates jobs, a fairer economic system and a better standard of living – but the same can be said for buying locally produced items here in the UK, can’t it?!

Fair trade also encourages consumers to think about the social, economic and environmental impact of the items they buy.  Almost all of the Fair Trade craft items that I sell in my shop are made from recycled, ethically sourced and sustainable materials produced with the environment in mind; the manufacturing process generally uses natural resources and no harsh chemicals and the end product is shipped by sea instead of by air as this is more eco-friendly.  The packaging used is recycled or recyclable too.  I make my own bags from old newspapers and when an item is too big for a bag I will wrap it in newspaper.  Most of my customers like this and with ribbons and bows packages can look very pretty but there is always that one person who really doesn’t want their purchase to be wrapped up in an old newspaper like a fish supper used to be! (I do have some recycled tissue wrap for these occasions!)  I also encourage my local crafters to make their items from sustainable materials too.  Fresh fair trade produce (which I don’t sell) is, generally, organically farmed and is, however, more likely to be shipped by air to maintain its viability. It is us as consumers who have the power to improve the livelihoods of workers and save our ailing planet with responsible buying.  I Have to admit that I don’t always buy fair trade or locally produced; I do whenever I can but often what I buy depends on how much money I have in my purse.  However I would argue that, because I buy from local shops rather than supermarkets (which does happen because you can’t avoid them) any money I spend generally stays within my local community.

Fair trade also protects the rights of women and children.  It stipulates that there will be no forced or child labour ensuring that women are not forced to work and that children can indeed be children and go to school and play like our children do.  It also protects the rights of disabled workers so they too are treated just the same as everyone else.  Some workers choose to spend their fair trade premium on providing a free crèche so that women who have small children too young for school can still work while their children are looked after free of charge!

So, to summarise; Fair Trade is governed, regulated and certified by the World Fair Trade Organisation (for crafts and clothing) and Fairtrade International (for produce).  It has been helping communities out of poverty since 1946.  Registered producers are regularly inspected to make sure the principles that make up the fair trade charter are being adhered to; if not, they may lose their registration.  There are ten fair trade principles which govern the production of produce and products alike.  These principles cover workers’ rights, gender equity and respect for the environment; I have touched on these here but I’ll go into them in more detail in a later blog.

I hope you have enjoyed reading my first blog – before today, I didn’t really know what a blog was; I had to look it up!  I learned that a blog should be informative and written as though a conversation was taking place – I hope I have achieved this!  Until next time … thanks for reading!

Ellie Turner
16 August 2018

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