Make a difference: Shop fair trade

Buy local! Buy green! Buy organic! The signs are everywhere: world food shortages,
climate change and health concerns have consumers re-examining their shopping
habits. We’re called on to “vote” with our dollars by support
companies that have sustainable, socially responsible and environmentally-friendly
practices. We’re encouraged to purchase food that is grown or produced within
a 100 mile radius of where we live to support local farmers and cut down on emissions.

It all sounds good, but are we missing a piece to this shopping puzzle?

While it makes sense to purchase local produce rather than imported goods,
does this mean we have to give up foods that can’t be grown locally, such
as bananas, cocoa, tea and coffee? Is purchasing such luxuries exploiting workers
in developing countries? Can you still support sustainable and responsible farming
practices, even if they aren’t local?

If you’re concerned about where your food is coming from, take a second
look at fair trade goods.

What is Fair Trade?

In simplest terms, fair trade is a movement to make sure that the people who
produce the goods we consume get paid a fair price for them. The goal: More
money goes directly to the growers and their communities and less to the “middlemen.”
Fair trade benefits independent farmers, co-operatives and artisans who are
often disadvantaged when competing with larger companies and some businesses
that use exploitive practices.

What kind of an impact can it make? Take coffee, for example. According to
a report
from CBC News
, Canadians drink more than 40 million cups of coffee a day,
and the majority of this amount is brewed at home. But for every dollar we spend
on coffee at the grocery store, only 11 cents goes to the coffee growers. Under
fair trade agreements, that amount more than doubles to 28 cents. By 2004, sales
of fair trade coffee had risen to $28.2 million. And it gets better: The fair
trade market has been experiencing steady growth over the last 10 years.

The benefits

However, there’s more to it than money: Fair trade focuses on supporting
farmers and their communities. The standards include:

– Promoting sustainable and environmentally-sound farming practices.

– Accountability and transparency of procedures.

– A guaranteed wage for workers, including women who are often underpaid.

– Ethical labour practices. Child and slave labour are forbidden.

– A healthy, safe working environment.

In addition, a portion of the income goes towards initiatives that support
the entire community, such as building a school, improving infrastructure and
providing medicine.

For more information about definitions and policy, see the Fairtrade
Labelling Organizations International

How can you tell if something is Fair Trade/Fairtrade?

Many may claim the term, but you don’t have to take their word for it.
The simplest way to identify fair trade products or organizations is to look
for their logo or certification.

When it comes to products, look for the Fairtrade
Certification Mark
(i.e. logo). In order for a product to get its Fairtrade
Certification (FTC), it must meet certain accountability and fairness standards
set out by the Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO). These
standards are implemented at every step of the supply chain from producer through
to consumer. Inspections, monitoring and licensing are part of the process.
The FLO itself is made up of 20 labelling organizations, including Transfair
Canada and Transfair USA (who still use their own logos to label FTC products).

Don’t let the terms confuse you: “Fair Trade” usually refers
to the general movement itself, while the term “Fairtrade” refers
to the labelling and certification system. Only officially certified items are
guaranteed to meet international standards.

Currently, artwork, jewellery, textiles and other handcrafted products are
not certified by FLO. The reason? The Fairtrade Certification was designed for
commodity products where standardized practices are appropriate. It doesn’t
easily apply to individual or unique items where the production processes and
costs vary.

For handcrafted items, you’ll have to look to the organizations instead of
the product. The International Fair Trade Association (IFAT) developed the Fair
Trade Organization mark
in 2004 to identify registered organizations that
implement certain standards in their trading activity. Once again, working conditions,
the environment and wages are of main concern. However, these standards are
verified mainly through self-assessment and peer review. FTO organizations include
retailers such as PeopleTree, Ten Thousand Villages and the Network of European

What’s available, and where?

The availability of certified items depends on the country where you are shopping.
In Canada, certified food items include bananas, cocoa products (chocolate,
syrups, etc), coffee, sugar, tea, honey, rice, wine and quinoa. Other commodities
available include shea butter, spices, sports balls (e.g. footballs), cotton
and flowers.

You might be surprised where these products turn up — like at your local grocery
store or favourite coffee shop. Transfair Canada has a search
for what products are available in your area. Stores that carry fair
trade products can also be found through the Find
page on the IFAT website. You can also use this tool to verify a
“fair trade” claim. The Fair
Trade Federation
also has a search tool to find its members (mostly in the
US), though it is not a certification body.

However, many of these search tools do not include workplaces, schools, faith-based
groups and small businesses that aren’t registered with an organization.
If you have questions or want to request an item, it’s best to talk to
a store manager or supervisor.

Before you get sticker-shock, be aware that the prices for fair trade items
may be higher than their uncertified counterparts. But as with organic and environmentally-friendly
products, the long-term benefits are prompting people to work more of these
items into their budget. The certification organizations don’t regulate
retail prices, so a little comparison shopping can help save money. Even the
small purchases — a cup of fair trade coffee out with friends or an occasional
bar of fair trade chocolate — can have a considerable impact if everyone does
a little.

Curious to learn more? There’s a wealth of information available online,
including how you can participate in community and nationwide programs. For
more information, check out these sites: