Being Green – Fair Trade

Hi Folks:

Friday once again, and time for this week’s ‘Being Green‘ post.  Imagine getting up every morning and going to work, but discovering on payday that you have to pay your boss for being there…  Sounds silly, right?  Consider then that of the roughly 8 million tonnes of coffee consumed every year, some 80% is sold for less than what it costs to grow it.  That’s just one example, albeit a common one; where would we be without our caffeine jolt in the morning?  While people are generally happy to discover low prices on foods and other products in the store, how many stop to consider what the ‘cost’ of those low prices really is?

The term ‘Fair Trade‘ has been given several definitions, but the one agreed upon by the four member organizations of ‘FINE’ (from Wikipedia) is:

In 2001, FINE members agreed the following definition of fair trade, on which to base their work:

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 – especially in the South. Fair trade organisations, backed by consumers, are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of conventional international trade”.

FINE members further agreed to define fair trade‘s strategic intent as:

  • deliberately to work with marginalised producers and workers in order to help them move from a position of vulnerability to security and economic self-sufficiency,
  • to empower producers and workers as stakeholders in their own organisations,
  • actively to play a wider role in the global arena to achieve greater equity in international trade.

Now, on the surface fair trade is what the name implies.  Those who grow crops or make items for sale are given a fair price for their work.  Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  Maybe even fair?  But it goes beyond that because of what happens with the influx of money flowing into the communities involved with fair trade deals.  Having greater disposable income provides opportunities for these communities and the people who live there to build schools, medical clinics, better housing, and provide better clothing, food and more for their families.  People who are healthy, well fed and cared for build cooperatives and communities that are safer and more stable too.  This goes way beyond paying a little more for a cup of morning coffee.  It goes beyond an idea who’s time has come but is something that should and must always be.

From a consumer point of view, one can become involved with fair trade on a personal level by exercising wisdom in one’s purchases,  but one can also engage this on a community level.  From an idea that started in England in 2001, more and more towns, cities, etc. are becoming certified as ‘fair trade zones or settlements‘.  At least 18 different countries now boast fair trade settlements, including several in Europe, Canada, the US and Australia.  Wales is on its way to becoming a fair trade certified nation.  Again from Wikipedia:

Formal guidelines have been produced jointly by several FLO member Fairtrade labelling initiatives. In order to be awarded Fairtrade status, an area must meet five criteria:

  • Local council passes a resolution supporting Fairtrade, and agrees to serve Fairtrade tea and coffee at its meetings and in its offices and canteens.
  • A range of (at least two) Fairtrade products is readily available in the area’s shops and local cafés/catering establishments.
    • Target for number of retail outlets: population of < 10000 – 1 retail outlet per 2500; population < 200000 – 1 retail outlet per 5000; population of < 500000 – 1 retail outlet per 10000.
    • Target for number of catering outlets: population of < 10000 – 1 catering outlet per 5000; population < 200000 – 1 catering outlet per 10000; population of < 500000 – 1 catering outlet per 20000
  • Fairtrade products are used by a number of local work places (estate agents, hairdressers etc) and community organisations (churches, schools etc)
  • Attract media coverage and popular support for the campaign.
  • A local Fairtrade steering group is convened to ensure continued commitment to its Fairtrade Town status.

It may not be surprising, but fair trade has come under criticism both by those who feel it doesn’t do enough and from those who feel it arbitrarily inflicts a level of protection against a free marketplace.  Still, for my money, it just makes sense.  Can we do more?  Definitely.  But as the saying goes, a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.

If you’d like more information, I’ll put a list of fair trade organizations at the top of this week’s links:

That’s it for now. Have a great week!
Mike.

P.S. How cool is this? “Mother trees” use fungal systems to feed the forest

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