Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Fair Trade? Well we thought it was…

Following a critical article in The Guardian newspaper about Fairtrade on 10th May 2007, the BBC announced details of their investigation into the treatment of migrant workers at a so-called “Fairtrade” supplier of bananas to many of the UK supermarket chains.

I first came across fair trade products in Edinburgh as a student in the 1990s and believed then what a simple and important idea it was. To have an internationally recognised standard for products that recognised ethical practices in the supply chain, with producers getting a more reasonable payment for their products is fantastic. Just the sort of thing for consumers like me, trying to become more ethical and sustainable in what I buy, can look out for and make better, more informed choices.

If a scheme such as this is not being properly audited and is being abused by some companies to make a profit from the ethical and sustainability bandwagon, then it has been tainted and we consumers cannot trust it. As soon as the trust goes, so does the credibility of the FAIRTRADE mark and no doubt consumers will no longer see fair trade products as something good to buy, and rather as some sort of con.
I'm not alone in thinking this. An article on Green Options highlights the importance of transparency, accountability and trust in the supply chain for such fair trade schemes.

Isn’t time the Fairtrade Foundation woke up? We thought that they were the champions of getting a fair deal for producers in the developing world. This view is suggested by the definition of the FAIRTRADE mark: “… an independent consumer label which appears on UK products as a guarantee that they have given their producers a better deal”. Tell that to the migrant workers “employed” by Pratt’s Bananas in Luton!

I don’t want to give up on FAIRTRADE mark products quite yet but isn’t it time for the scheme to get tough, be rigorous and fight for its credibility and the producers that deserve a better deal?

We spend millions of pounds on Fairtrade products in the UK. Will members of the Fairtrade Foundation please use some of it to conduct rigorous checks on the Fairtrade supply chain and restore our faith in the scheme?
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