The Big Fair Trade Controversy

The Big Fair Trade Controversy

Over the many years since Fairtrade first began, the movement has seen many ups and downs.

As with any movement that seeks to change the comfortable status quo, there have been critics, naysayers and outright enemies from the get go.

The biggest criticism leveled at Fairtrade over the years has come from academics, who claim that an insufficient amount of the sale price reaches the original producer. This is an oversimplification of the facts, and a perfect example of economists wilfully misrepresenting data to suit their agenda.

Fairtrade farmers and producers are paid in a two-pronged system.

First up, producers are paid fixed price, agreed on by both parties before production and distribution goes ahead. This is known as the floor price, and it is designed to protect producers in the event that the market fluctuates and purchasing prices drop below what they would otherwise earn.

Producers then receive an additional amount, known as the Fairtrade Premium, that can be used for whatever they want. Many producers put this extra income towards developing their communities and protecting their local resources. This ensures that their way of life and income are protected, while benefiting others in their community - a rising tide lifts all ships.

Other critics will argue that implementing a floor price isn’t enough, that there are plantation workers who are unprotected because they are not part of a Fair Trade co-op, that conglomerates can abuse the Fair Trade system.

And those are legitimate concerns - but they are determinedly ignoring the big picture.



Recently Fairtrade International - the predominant certifying body - introduced hiring standards, meaning that even casual workers are protected and paid a living wage. It supports the unionization of workers, and greater freedom in their allocation of income.

Fair Trade USA, which split from Fairtrade International in 2012, has been globally decried for its willingness to extend certification to large plantations with internal management protocols. The FTUSA position has provided a loophole for large corporations to take advantage of the marketing clout of Fair Trade without helping to sustain or develop the movement.

The big picture is that over 1.4 million coffee, tea, banana and orange growers, cacao producers, jewelry artisans, and tailors all over the world have been tipped back from the brink of destitution by their Fair Trade affiliation.

Let’s call it what it is. The most vocal opponents of Fair Trade are the ones with the most to lose. They are the ones who, in the words of one insightful journalist, would have their apple carts overturned by ‘interference in the correct running of markets’.

We’ve seen this before. Just as it was an uphill battle for the civil rights movement to overcome the violent opposition of the white community, so it is an uphill battle to win fair, livable working conditions for all against the powerful corporations that run the global economy.

For you and me, though, it’s not such a battle. We have the privilege of simply voting with our wallets, and it is a small price to pay. A couple of dollars each time you go to the supermarket or pick up a gift is all it takes to start moving retailers and suppliers towards more and more Fair Trade purchases. Encouraging one or two other people can start a chain reaction.

Choose consciously, and don’t let the naysayers get you down.

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1 comment

Question , how it the FT industry not anything more than a labor/political activist org.?

William Roche

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