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The View On The Streets: ethical shopping & fair trade


The View On The Streets: ethical shopping and fair trade

In the run-up to Christmas, many charities are encouraging us to shop ethically. By making moral choices about what you put in your shopping trolley, these charities say,  you will not only have a guilt-free shopping experience but you will be helping millions to escape the worst excesses of poverty.  But what exactly are these ethical principles which underlie the fair trade label and what do we really know about it?  In this revealing report, we ask the public if they buy into fair trade and the response is a mixed bag.  Many base their purchasing decisions on price and need and plenty of people who know the score in the developing world see it as far from fair.

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Mukthadir Ali said:

I believe public’s attitude towards fairtrade is how they are being produced in developing countries so this makes better trading conditions on farmers who are overlooked in the supply chain and most importantly promote sustainability. So it gives people a thought when buying such products

Mukthadir Ali said:

I believe public’s attitude towards fair trade is how they are being produced in developing countries so this makes better trading conditions on farmers who are overlooked in the supply chain and most importantly promote sustainability. So it gives people a thought when buying such products.

Oran said:

The question mark that hovers over ethical trading is ‘Are the local producers of the goods any better off?’ Fair trade appears to be misunderstood by consumers, and this is could be a problem with their promotion of what fair trading is. There is obviously a need for transparency around the term ‘fair trade’. Also, for there to be true ‘fair trading’ producers should be paid a wage that equates to the market value of their goods, no matter where in the world it is sold. Should farmers be paid a wage based on local salaries or based on the wages they would earn in the country that their produce is sold? Is fair trade a patronising handout with little substance behind it, or is it a way of advancing social change?

I would like to know more about the comparisons between farmers that have signed up to fair trading and those that have not.

Damy said:

The story on fair trade is very revealing as it brings an insight into the world of fair trade and brings one to ask oneself a question is fair-trade truly fair and does it bring any difference to the farmers doing most of the hard job. Also shopping ethical during wouldn’t make any difference as a question put in mind is who are getting the benefits and profit of the whole fair trade.

Hilda said:

The view from the streets shows that the public are not convinced that the farmers are getting a good deal when it comes to Fairtrade. The farmers who work so hard are not getting a good deal for their hard work. There were views from people who lived in Ghana, Nigeria and someone who visited Kenya. They all said the same thing that Fairtrade is not making any difference. These people must have seen that Fairtrade is not making any difference in the farmer’s lives. There must be a difference if Fair trade is helping farmers in India, Africa or anywhere else. People do not buy products because it has a fair trade logo, but they buy because they need that product. The fair-trade organisation should proof to the public or look at different ways they can truly help farmers and that it has changed the lives of these farmer in some way.

Meg said:

When I was watching the interviews couldn’t help thinking the questions were a bit leading. The phrase ‘buying into’ seems to be asking for people’s doubts and more negative thoughts. I am always a little doubtful about how much fair trade products change anything, but it’s easy to become excessively cynical. When something’s written on a glossy packet we assume it’s all a marketing ploy, but we can’t know for sure. Of course a Fairtrade purchase isn’t going to change the world in an obvious way, of course it isn’t going to stop poverty being an issue or immediately develop a huge part of the world. That doesn’t make it pointless. Of course the whole system of trade and massive consumerism needs to be tackled, but we should be doing both, not one or the other. One thing I don’t think is fair is to accuse Fair Trade of being worse than other trade. How can it be worse to try and bring some gender equality in wages, or to protect a bit from unpredictable fluctuations of prices. I also think ‘Stop the Traffik’s’ angle on ethical trading is interesting.
Also, there has to be some restrictions on farmers and companies. If there were no restrictions, nothing that was required, then every company could put a fair trade logo on anything. Of course they have to ban pesticides that are poisonous to the people who spread them and are banned in Europe, otherwise how can it be described as any improvement? Of course audits are necessary to see if Fairtrade ideas are actually being put into practice, otherwise you could have a sweatshop full of trafficked children with a Fairtrade logo. I don’t think Fairtrade is perfect, but neither is it fair to be quite this damning.

Sarah K said:

It is interesting that Barbara doesn’t respond to the points made about small scale production- keeping things small is the antithesis of growth. US Fairtrade is now supporting plantation production but European Fairtrade isn’t. She doesn’t seem to have a problem either with Westerners ‘auditing’ producers or sitting in on ‘stakeholders’ meetings and her delight at the return of the butterfly is revealing. Thats going to really lift them out of poverty. Producers in the developing world evidently don’t have a say in the West about wages at ASDA or TESCO which are appalling for most or the big salaries paid at the foundation so why on earth should they have to submit to an audit at all? Where is the campaign for major investment I’d like to know.

Barbara said:

Hi, I work for Fairtrade, and watched this film with interest. There are a lot of great discussion points in there, and I’d be happy to come and discuss these with Worldwrite members at any time!

A few clarifications on things that are said by people in this film:

1. Fairtrade started when Mexican coffee farmers appealed to people in Europe to help them create a label for sustainably produced and fairly traded products – so from the beginning it wasn’t cooked up here in the West, but by producers and campaigners working together. Today, standards go through a multistakeholder process in which producers of the products have a strong say, and which includes their own research on the cost of sustainable production – we literally bring people North and South round the table together to negotiate changes in the system. The standards are constantly under review, and representatives of producer communities sit on all the groups who make the decisions.

2. At one point the interviewer says, “Did you know Fairtrade doesn’t allow farmers to use pesticides or chemical fertilisers?”. This is untrue. Fairtrade farmers of course use pesticides and fertilisers – and organisations often use Fairtrade premiums to subsidise these for their members too. However there is a list of banned pesticides which are known to be dangerous, and which are banned in Europe, but often still found in developing countries – it is based on the Pesticide Action Network’s Dirty Dozen, known to be damaging to public health and wider ecosystems. One banana farmer told me that since he stopped using one of the banned chemicals, butterflies have returned to his farm, which in turn is helping pollination of various things he grows, and therefore increasing his productivity.

3. (Dan’s comment here) In the Fairtrade system, producers only have to go through 1 audit to sell anywhere in the world – we established 1 global system precisely to achieve this – so it isn’t true that they have to pay each label separately. However you are right that there are lots of other labels besides Fairtrade, and if a farm wants to sell its produce as organic, or Utz Certified or another label, then they do have to go through their audits too. On top of this, supermarkets often impose their own labels, Global Gap, Tesco Nature’s Choice etc. I think we would agree that farm audits are not the answer to unfair trading practices, we need to tackle overall power in supply chains – and that’s why Fairtrade is also a campaigning movement, not just a label.

4. (Shomari’s comment) Totally agree that people want to upgrade their practices – often farmers don’t have the resources, even when they know exactly what is needed. Fairtrade has supported producers to mechanise in all sorts of ways, from building cupping labs to improve coffee quality, to upgrading processing equipment. Last month in Paraguay, sugar cane farmers inaugurated their own sugar mill, the first time farmers have had control over their own processing, and therefore moving up the value chain.

Finally, I completely agree with the people in the film who talk about farmers not wanting their children to go into farming. One of the biggest investments farmers make with their premiums is to improve local education and school facilities, and even provide bursaries for college or universities, precisely so that more of them can go on to other, alternative professional careers. There is no contradiction here – in the Fairtrade system, all these decisions in the hands of the producers themselves.

Dan said:

Public scepticism is well founded. In Kenya flower farm workers will tell you they want to get a job on the best farm, the one which pays the highest wages. They dont care if its fair trade or not. The flower farms in Kenya which sign up to the fair trade label do so because its a marketing tool – it allows them to sell their flowers to UK supermarkets. Farm managers openly admit that being fair trade doesnt affect their wage rates. Its means having to undergo an audit once a year. Its not only fair trade. Since the 1990s to sell to certain markets, farms in Africa have had to be audited by all sorts of labels. Every European countries has its own national and corporate ones. FLO, FLP, Max Havelar etc Farms have to pay each auditing label every year for an audit survey of their farm.
This is what people are buying into when they say they support fair trade. They are paying for a bureaucracy of auditors. But Kenya has its own unions, its own cooperatives, its own political parties, its own media, its own labour office. No one there is waiting around for European auditors.
A lot of people in the business are very cynical of all these labels. But they go along with it because they need to sell flowers to Europe.

Shomari said:

Reading below, and checking Gillian and Osrin out, I think there is a simple answer – stop treating people differently from you. Take Uta’s talk of traditional skills, what is that exactly, people’s skills are not something that is stuck, part of their culture, their identity – I am sure they would like the skills to use machines to get things done faster! It is nonsense. The idea that people here are working tirelessly is also insulting, by the look of people your end they are doing very nicely, and good luck to them, but don’t stand in the way of progress by insisting on organic, or traditional skills – this is keeping people poor which is not ethical.

Gillian Osrin said:

There are no easy answers to the issues raised and they are also different from one sector to another. All the people working on the brands listed on are working tirelessly to make a positive difference in their supply chains.

Sarah K said:

I don’t think this report is depressing at all but really honest and a refreshing take. Whether its chocolate or flowers or hand crafts or gifts who on earth are we in the West to impose any conditions whatsoever on producers- what a cheek..all sounds really coochy coo and godly from Uta but its not growth its peanuts and staying small is not what brought us the living standards we have is it Uta. I don’t suppose you are living a semi subsistence life. Thats the rub its anti growth and anti equality oh and anti-democratic since it puts the emphasis on us as consumers – we don’t all have the same wallet size do we – we do equally have a right to vote and campaign for political change and investment that would be far better than Uta’s politically correct stay small & cutesy missionary feelgood outfit.

Uta Rosenbrock said:

How depressing. I have been selling fairtrade products for 12 years now, they are clothing and gifts, non food items. I know my suppliers all personally and I always ask how often they visit the factory and what the conditions are like there. I base my buying decisions on personal trust. I am also a member of BAFTS since last year, and the conditions to become a BAFTS recognized importer make sense and are very clear. It includes safe working conditions, above average wage, environmental concerns, equal pay for men and women and many others, which may be basic, but are a necessary step in the right direction. Many of my suppliers do much more, contributing to healthcare and education in the communities they produce in, for example, and, very importantly, they preserve traditional skills. These small companies are real, they make a difference and they are worth supporting. It’s not all coffee and tea and chocolate, but I personally buy those products fairtrade as well for my own personal use.

Mijan said:

The issue is that the extra price paid for the Fairtrade product does not end up with farmers. It is used to build bigger production factories and to market the brand. The farmers are paid very little extra and probably prefered their previous way of working because it did not have so many quotas.

Stefania said:

I personally think that “fair trade” is more a marketing concept than anything else. It’s a concept that sells and makes customers spend more money. Fair trade products are in fact more expensive than normal products and there is a lot of business generated out of this.
I would prefer to help working as a volunteer in a third world country than buying fair trade products!

DeRoy said:

Africa will be having the last laugh in the not too distance future, as it grows economically and chucks outside ‘help’ out. That will be a day to celebrate. Sorry to be blunt but I have really had enough of this kind of stuff. Oxfam even has a Xmas gift this year of a hygiene kit for people in the developing world. A hygiene kit! Coz we just can’t wash without them… will be a day to celebrate when we wash our hands of them.

Sharon said:

This is a real eye opener. Very interesting to hear about the farmers in Kenya who wanted out of the Fairtrade scheme as it kept them stagnate. I just assumed a little bit will help but actually it does the opposite by not taking on board that poverty is poverty – it sucks and little morsels just won’t do.

Asoq said:

Love the guy who goes all philosophical on a Saturday afternoon – it is about feeling good I think and maybe he’s right that would be Ok if it was based on something really transformative. I’m not sure that altruism is the thing really though as gaining from human cooperation on a global scale is mutually beneficial and not about sacrifice.

Charlie said:

Still not sure on this or what ethical means then. Do get it is about helping poor farmers just a bit – is the bit of help if it has conditions attached not a help then?

HoneyB said:

Producers in the developing world need investment to massively scale up not peanuts from guilt shoppers- refreshing report.

Imlovinit said:

Healthy scepticism good to hear from people who know the other side of the story. The guy who goes on about hope is really quite revolting good to have alongside the Africa’s decade debate which tells us Africa is growing at 7% per annum no thanks to fair trade of course.

Martha said:

There is an interesting row going on between Fair Trade I think overe here and Fair Trade USA as in the US they want to let bigger producers developing plantations be fair trade at least that suggests they are supporting growth.

Shivana said:

I always thought it was all a bit of a con but was worried about ‘not doing my bit’ I think that is the thing. Small scale producers need to become big producers and Fair Trade evidently doesn’t offer that so how is it ethical or fair?

James K said:

Wow another excellent report telling not the usual story-just shows there are some smart people out there not afraid to question sacred cows.