Being fair can go a long way. This Fairtrade Fortnight – ask some questions!

It’s Fair Trade Fortnight! This a great opportunity for us to understand how making more informed choices on the products we buy can have a huge impact on the lives of those less fortunate.

Fairtrade is described by the Fairtrade Association of Australia & NZ (an arm of Fairtrade International) as:

Better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world. By requiring companies to pay sustainable prices, Fairtrade addresses the injustices of conventional trade, which traditionally discriminates against the poorest, weakest producers. It enables them to improve their position and have more control over their lives.

Fairtrade International have developed a strict global certification process to allow consumers greater confidence when buying products that may have come from areas where working conditions and prices paid for goods can be questionable.

I have worked in India with Oxfam, and Vietnam with CARE Vietnam and I have seen first-hand how the cycle of poverty can grip communities when they are treated unfairly.  Why should we have the benefit of paying just $10 for a piece of clothing if it means a family can’t afford to eat? That doesn’t seem very fair does it?

Anna in India with Oxfam

Me with a local Health Worker visiting the Pune Slums in India

(In a simplified way) here is what can happen without ethical and sustainable supply chains:

  1. The producer (eg. farmer, sewer, crafter) needs to purchase materials to make their product – it may be seeds for a new crop, leather for shoes, yarn for rugs etc.
  2. He trusts a dodgy loan shark who charges exorbitant interest rates (I’m talking 100% interest minimum) but he has no other choice if he wants to be able to make and sell his goods.
  3. Once the goods are made he sells them any way he can – and this is often to a ‘middle man’ who takes advantage of his desperate position and pays far less than what the product is worth.
  4. The middle man takes a cut and sells the product to a second person who works for an export business.
  5. The exporter then on-sells to a wholesale or retail business seeking this beautiful  piece to sell – perhaps this is a business (big or small) in the UK, USA or Australia
  6. Finally, we the consumer find & buy this piece – either at such a low price that we can’t believe our luck; or at a hugely inflated price that we think how unique and special the piece must be, and we hand over our cash.
  7. And the cycle of poverty continues as the Producer still can’t negotiate a high enough price to sell to the middle man. He struggles to afford more materials but it will just have to mean his kids can’t continue schooling and they instead need to go out and get work to help bring the family some income.  He will also have to reduce the amount of food they can afford for the short term.
  8. He won’t be able to pay the loan back any time soon so it get’s higher with interest. The debt increases with every passing day. The pressure increases, the family suffers. He turns to drinking alcohol to numb his fears. He then may take his frustration out on his family in the form of physical violence.
  9. When he realises he will never be able to get ahead, he takes his life and the debts pass on to his wife and children.

It sounds almost unreal doesn’t it? But I heard this scenario told over and over while visiting communities in India. It’s sadly very real and it’s only through projects like, for example, Oxfam’s micro-finance schemes (which manage no or low-interest community based loans); or processes like Fairtrade certification; can these people have any hope to re-claim their lives and step out of poverty.  And to achieve this, all they need is a fair price.

Oxfam Project meeting - Anna McGregor

A meeting with the women of a rural village to discuss the positive impact Oxfam’s micro-finance scheme has had on their families and the community as a whole.

So what can you do?  It can be daunting to know where to start – or to really understand how buying a small Fairtrade chocolate bar can have a direct impact on the life of the farmer who grew the cacao beans.

First and foremost, you simply need to start asking questions around how a product is made. If you don’t like the answer you get, and there is a better alternative, then support the alternative. As consumers, we absolutely hold the power.  Businesses can only sell us what we are happy to hand over our hard-earned money for.

If we don’t purchase the product as per the scenario above (at step 6), it puts direct pressure back up the chain. If the business misses a sale because you want to know whether the product has an ethical supply chain, it will trigger a response in the business owner.  Business owners listen (or should listen) to their customers, as you hold key information they need to be able to successfully sell to you.  If that means making sure the person who made the product has been paid fairly, I’m going to bet that they start having a conversation with their supplier in India about the chain of transactions and where that product came from. If this pressure is coming from all directions of the developed world, those suppliers will soon realise that we will only buy their products if they can guarantee fair payment to the original producer.

It takes time, but it will have a positive ripple effect.

So what are you waiting for?! Let’s get started!

Here are some of my favourite brands who have worked hard to ensure ethical and sustainable supply chains:

3 FISH - Passionate Ethical Aussies:  http://www.3fish.com.au

3 FISH

3 FISH

Green & Blacks (UK owned) & Cocolo (Australian owned) Guilt free chocolate!

http://www.greenandblacks.com & http://www.cocolo.com.au

Fairtrade Chocolate blocks

These 2 blocks of chocolate may or may not get eaten by the time I finish this post.

kowtow - From across the way to NZ: http://www.kowtowclothing.com

kowtow

Fashioning ChangeA clever US online store helping you chose ethical pieces. They have a great section called ‘Wear this, Not that’ where they show you ethical alternatives to some popular labels proving ethical doesn’t mean unfashionable: http://www.fashioningchange.com

Fashioning Change - ethical fashion online store

Fashion-Conscience – UK based online store featuring global ethical labels – ships to Oz. Yipee!: http://www.fashion-conscience.com

Fashion conscience

ASOS Green Room – Ethical labels via the ASOS store: http://www.asos.com/green-room

While it’s difficult to add ASOS to the list given the problems they encourage with the rest of their label, they are getting it right by making a start. And it’s important to use that buying power we talked about earlier and send them the message we are happy to buy from this ‘green’ section of your store, but not the rest. {A similar situation is for Cadbury who recently launched their Fairtrade chocolate block.  Buy it.  Send them the message that you will hand over your money for it – but not for any of their other products. If they can support fair trade cacao beans in one element of their business, they can do it for all of it).

ASOS - People Tree

OXFAM – My heart will always lie with Oxfam given I have seen the direct and lasting impact they are making. They have a wonderful range of gifts, jewelry, homewares, and yummy edible goodies. A purchase here will really make you feel like you are making a difference: http://www.oxfamshop.org.au

Oxfam Dove Earings

Oxfam Dove of Peace Earrings made from recycled bombshell!

And I can’t forget sorella & me!  We only use organic Fairtrade certified cotton and we are working really hard to ensure all steps in our supply chain are ethical & sustainable – and we won’t stop until we do. By sourcing certified Fairtrade cotton we are guaranteed that everyone from the cotton farmer right through to the knitters, dyers, and packers of our beautiful fabric have met these requirements. This may cost a small amount more than non-certified fabric – but we wouldn’t have it any other way: http://www.sorellaandme.com.au

sorella & me luxuary organic maternity sleepwear

Want to see what other products might be available in your local area? Check out Fair Trade Australia’s buyers Guide: http://www.fta.org.au/buy-sell/where-buy-fairtrade-products

~ share the fair love! anna x

Have you got any questions about finding ethical products? Or can you share a brand with us that has an ethical & sustainable approach to their business?

5 thoughts on “Being fair can go a long way. This Fairtrade Fortnight – ask some questions!

  1. Pingback: What does Fairtrade mean? And where can you find Fairtrade products? | KORA Organics Blog

  2. Pingback: The sorella-hood’s top 10 essential items to pack in your hospital bag – for MUMS! | the sorella-hood

  3. Pingback: My top 5 (okay, 6) products to celebrate Fairtrade Fortnight! | the sorella-hood

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