Welcome to my new ‘living well’ series! This first post is all about ethically sourced foodstuffs. As is pretty obvious from this entire blog, I love my food and get through a lot of ingredients, but have more recently become aware of the problems associated with many of my favourite products. Like most people, I want to get the highest quality product at the lowest possible price, but what we often don’t realise is that this can come at a cost to the producer. Many industries rely on underpaying and exploiting their workers — or even on child labour and modern slavery — to keep prices down and turn over large profits.
If I have one issue with the current ‘wellness’ trend (and tbh I have quite a few) it’s that it’s very driven by what’s good for us and our bodies — what makes us look and feel good. These things are important, but sometimes I find there’s so much emphasis placed on this, that it clouds out issues which are more important. What about the people that grew the raw organic cacao? What about their ‘wellness’? If your food is all organic, cold-pressed, unrefined etc, that’s great – but surely the most important thing is that it’s ethically sourced?
I’ve asked Joe Osman, Sourcing Director at Traidcraft to answer a few questions and shed some more light on this issue, since it’s something I’m still learning about myself. Evidently, it doesn’t just apply to food, that’s just what I’ve chosen to focus on. This isn’t a sponsored post, but I do recommend you have a look at their website, as they have some wonderful ethically sourced products and run key campaigns.
What is Fair Trade?
Different organisations might come up with different definitions of Fair Trade or adapt according to their own activity – but probably the best ‘formal’ or ‘complete’ definition was developed some years ago jointly by the key organisations in Fair Trade – WFTO (World Fair Trade Organisation), FLO (Fair Trade International, formerly Fairtrade Labelling Organisation, and which Fairtrade Foundation is part of), NEWS (Network of European World Shops which does not exist anymore) and EFTA (European Fair Trade Association)
“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 Organizations, 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.”
Why is it important to buy fairly traded items, even if they are more expensive/harder to find?
Traidcraft might occasionally describe Fair Trade as a ‘movement’ and, as indicated in the above definition, one which seeks to ‘change the world’ of conventional trade which has led to inequity and poverty in supply chains. A quote from that great slavery abolitionist William Wilberforce springs to mind:
“Things great have small beginnings. Every downpour is just a raindrop; every fire is just a spark; every harvest is just a seed; every journey is just a step because without that step there will be no journey; without that raindrop there can be no shower; without that seed there can be no harvest.”
Fair Trade products may bring with them a higher price but this is not always the case. Availability may not always be straightforward in the places we shop. But making the effort to buy Fair Trade products in order to bring about that change is important.
There’s a confusing array of logos/ethical standards on products (e.g. Rainforest Alliance, Direct Trade etc.) – how do these differ from Fair Trade or are they essentially the same thing?
It’s always worth making the distinction between products that make an economic difference in the terms of trade – so paying fair prices, applying the principle (As FLO does) that a producer should earn at least a minimum price which covers the cost of sustainable production – and those which are seeking to make an environmental difference. This is a key difference between Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade certification. Both are good but studies would suggest that Fairtrade makes a bigger difference to producer’s economic circumstances. There are other ‘Fair Trade’ certification schemes apart from Fairtrade which are equally good. Direct Trade is a kind of ‘self-certification’ approach and some brands may make good claims about producers earing more. 3rd party certification at least enables a form of independent verification.
Thinking particularly about food, should we be aware of particular products/industries that are more prone to exploitation?
The cocoa industry is notoriously prone to issues of child labour and even forms of modern slavery which is why decent 3rd party certification is important. Industries which include a high degree of processing at source might also be prone to exploitation – for example in tea factories and recently Traidcraft was involved in lobbying for change in Assam factories and plantations. There are probably lots of other examples which range from health & safety issue right through to child labour.
How can we make a difference through what we buy?
Consumers have power through what they spend or buy and incidentally, if you read a bit more about Wilberforce and the abolition of slavery back in the 19th century, you will come across the stories of consumer pressure at that time where plantation sugar employing slaves was boycotted. The extent to which that contributed to abolition may be argued.
Does buying fairly traded goods help the environment?
Fair trade principles or standards always include this. Fairtrade certification has 3 pillars of standards – economic, social, and environmental. But Fair Trade products would never claim exclusivity to social and environmental benefits.
What other ways can we inform ourselves on this topic, or do more to help?
In answer to the latter it’s often it’s about ‘spreading the word’ and leading by example. Traidcraft provides lots of opportunities to make a difference through its wider developmental work, lobbying & campaigning. In answer to the former it’s about going deeper into brands and their values – reading labels, browsing websites etc.
Many thanks again to Joe Osman at Traidcraft for taking the time to answer these questions — if you want to know more or browse their products, please visit their website. Again, this is not a sponsored post, I just wanted to share this important issue with you and they know far more about it than me 🙂