The 16th Fairtrade Fortnight, the UK’s annual campaign to encourage its consumers to buy products stamped with the Fairtrade mark (as shown) in order to help farmers in developing countries, began on Monday, as it was announced that UK sales of Fairtrade goods were up by 12 per cent last year – to an estimated £799 million.
This year’s ethical push, billed The Big Swap, aims to rally people to switch their everyday grocery items in particular for Fairtrade equivalents. Which is now easier than ever, of course, given that more than 4,500 products are now licensed to carry the mark.
Both Ben & Jerry’s and Green & Black’s have recently declared that they will be 100 per cent Fairtrade by the end of next year; Ben & Jerry’s promising that their ice cream will be 100 per cent Fairtrade globally by the end of 2013.
Sainsbury’s has claimed itself ‘the world’s largest Fairtrade retailer’ following a ten per cent rise in sales of Fairtrade-certified goods – to £218 million in 2009.
The previous year, the Co-operative became the first UK supermarket to convert all its own-brand beverages to Fairtrade. It has supported Fairtrade since 1992.
Starbucks has pledged that all coffee sold in the UK and Ireland will be Fairtrade-certified, which would make it the largest purchaser of Fairtrade coffee in the world.
From last year, cosmetics brands could also carry the Fairtrade mark.
This year’s Fairtrade Fortnight focus is on tea.
We drink more than a billion cups a day – 165 million, perhaps unsurprisingly, in the UK. Globally, the tea trade is worth nearly $4 billion and more than 20 million people in the developing world rely on it (some three million in Kenya alone), yet today’s producers receive barely half of what they did 30 years ago.
10 per cent of the tea sold in the UK is now Fairtrade, but the target is for that figure to rise to 50 per cent by 2012. If it did, the lives of millions around the world would alter drastically, as Mica Paris discovered on a recent visit to southern India.
Recent research found that two-thirds of UK consumers either buy Fairtrade tea already or would like their favourite brand to be Fairtrade. Subsequently, the five brands that, between them, account for 72 per cent of the UK tea market – PG Tips, Tetley, Twinings, Typhoo and Yorkshire Tea – were asked to switch all their products to Fairtrade. As yet, they haven’t done so.
By the way, all of Co-op’s, Marks & Spencer’s and Sainsbury’s own-brand tea is 100 per cent Fairtrade; Clipper has been carrying the Fairtrade mark since the mid-Nineties; and Cafédirect has been selling Fairtrade tea for over a decade (all their teas, coffees and hot chocolates are completely Fairtrade, in fact).
Buying Fairtrade products not only helps farmers and their families achieve a higher standard of living, but also sends a message to the movers and shakers: ‘I don’t agree with the current system that you have for so long manipulated. Its unfair trade rules keep people trapped in poverty; fairer means of trading could lift millions out of it, which would have consequences for all of us.’
Yet doesn’t Fairtrade also enrich those same exploitative forces while nicely covering up the less favourable practices of global household brands? (Personally, albeit somewhat tactlessly, I don’t care if Kit Kats are Fairtrade now; they’re still Nestlé.) Do you think the public are being deceived by such labels and shamed into paying more for them? Or doesn’t it matter if you can afford to buy them? After all, there’s exploitation and then there’s exploitation, and if you’re reading this you’re not one of the two billion people – roughly a third of the world’s population – still existing on less than $2 a day and unable to taste the fruits of their toil.
The Fairtrade Foundation’s target this year is for swaps: giving up a product in favour of a Fairtrade equivalent, ideally one million of them, proving that the UK wants producers in the developing world to get a better trade deal at long last.
As this is an international blog, many of you will not be able to give numerical support to this campaign, but we can all make a difference by changing our shopping habits. Ethical consumerism does change things. Your purse, wallet or plastic card of choice can, at times, prove itself to be equally effective as the pen you use to write letters of complaint, sign petitions or even mark ballot papers.
The domination of global agriculture by large corporations, combined with the ever-increasing influence of supermarkets in supply chains, has grown considerably: half the world’s coffee beans are purchased by Kraft, Nestlé, Proctor & Gamble, Sara Lee and Tchibo. The ten leading food retailers control around a quarter of the $3.5 trillion world food market, just three companies control a whopping 90 per cent of the world’s grain trade, and the top ten seed companies control almost half the $21 billion global commercial market.
Two billion of the world’s poorest people are dependent on small-scale farms, so you’d think it crucial that we support them. Doing so would increase food production and thus reduce global poverty, after all. They produce the bulk of many developing countries’ food (up to 80 per cent of Zambia’s, for example) and small, integrated farming systems have been shown to yield more per hectare in the long-term than larger ones. Vietnam, for example, has gone from being a food-deficit country to a major exporter of food due to higher productivity in family farms. It is now the second largest exporter in the world.
Add to this the obvious advantages of local farmers spending their income on local goods and services, which in turn boosts their local economies.
Supporting them would also help the environment: they manage a large share of the world’s water as well as vegetation cover, and farm far more sustainably than those industrial-scale, intensive monstrosities that trouble many of us so, thereby reducing soil erosion, increasing biodiversity and preserving soil fertility.
So, what exactly is Fairtrade? (Apparently, 30 per cent don’t know, so, should you fall into this category, allow me to try and explain.)
On the condition that small-scale farmers are organised, usually into democratically-run co-operatives (by being organised in this way, farmers increase their collective power and can claim a larger share of their profits, as opposed to being exploited by unscrupulous middlemen), and meet standards that promote sustainable agriculture, farmers receive a guaranteed minimum price for their goods, which covers their production costs and is above the world market price.
Fairtrade coffee producers in Nicaragua, for example, currently earn 20 cents per pound more than non-Fairtrade producers.
Coffee farmers in Oromia, Ethiopia, receive twice as much per pound of coffee beans by selling to Fairtrade buyers as opposed to private buyers. Considering that the average farmer produces around 1,300 pounds of coffee per year, if all of it was sold at the Fairtrade price rather than the conventional price, these farmers would earn $1,300 more each year.
Sadly, only a small proportion of their coffee is currently sold as Fairtrade, hence why farmers need the Fairtrade market to expand in order to attract more buyers.
The Fairtrade premium, an additional sum per kilo paid by Fairtrade buyers, is for social and community development. The Fairtrade premium received by the member societies of the Ankole Coffee Union in Uganda amounts to 10 cents per pound. The entire community now has access to clean water because of it.
The premium awarded to Mabale Tea Growers’ Factory, also in Uganda, has helped improve roads and erect leaf-sheds to protect the tea leaves from the elements during sorting. It has also helped build new classrooms and funded the construction of health clinic, both invaluable to the community.
Again, only around two per cent of Mabale’s tea is sold to Fairtrade buyers. If that suddenly became 22 or, better still, 82 per cent, think of the possibilities.
Of course, governments should act to support their farmers and protect them from exploitation. Yet if the people in the richest corners of the globe buy Fairtrade items, they play their small part in making things a lot better for a great many.
The farmers producing tea – the people behind your cuppa, if you like – can scarcely afford to drink their own product. Shouldn’t we, the ones fortunate enough to able to afford it and even more fortunate to be able to effect change through doing something so simple as buying one thing instead of another, at the very least help create for them a better standard of living? What an easy, almost effortless way to make a difference. Hell, we should even be ashamed of that.
Something else to consider is that, in developing countries last year, according to UN Millennium Development Goal figures, an estimated 50 to 90 million more people were thrown into extreme poverty.
I’d like to hear of your favoured Fairtrade products and swaps. Please take a moment to help the campaign to make every cup of tea in the UK Fairtrade by encouraging, in a few mouse clicks, the big five to switch to Fairtrade.
Oxfam are swapping tea for donations right now. In exchange for your unwanted goods, you will receive a free box of Cafédirect tea bags.
As a thank you for swapping to Fairtrade, Cadbury Dairy Milk has released an album entitled Big Swap Songs, which includes five UK chart hits covered by Ghanaian group, The Big Ghana Band. It is free to anyone who switches to any Fairtrade product during the fortnight. Download a free copy of the album by sharing which items you’ve swapped, or visit your local newsagents during the second week of Fairtrade Fortnight (that’s next week) to receive a free CD.
I very much enjoyed reading your views on this topic last year, so look forward to finding out if they’ve changed at all or if you’ve re-assessed any other consumerist habits for the better. Maybe you’ve become more cynical? If so, do tell. (Rainforest Alliance certification is something, no doubt, but 30 per cent just does not impress quite like 100, and it does smack of ‘greenwash’ to me.)
Apologies, naturally, that much of the above is of most relevance to UK-readers. Links to local campaigns or other Fairtrade retailers are very welcome.