On the subject of niche marketing is Fair Trade. This little gem of a humanitarian social movement seeks to get a better deal for both the environment and first hand producers. This is probably one of the only schemes where I’ve actually seen something of ethical or alternative consumerism develop from small scale production to (relatively) large availability.
Of course, I have to throw in some stats here…
‘Globally, consumers worldwide spent £1.6bn on Fairtrade certified products in 2007. This is a 47% increase on the previous year directly benefiting over 7 million people – farmers, workers and their families in 58 developing countries.’ (The Fairtrade Foundation website)
I think fair trade’s success on going big scale is due to its simple functionality of rewards for both sides: honest, quality products for consumers and happy producers in better working conditions – it’s a movement which can keep on going. Happy producers = Happy consumers. Woohoo.
It wasn’t long ago when you had to search every nook and cranny of the supermarket shelf to find something with the fair trade label, but, luckily, today it’s nearly everywhere. Even Cadburys is in on the ethical act. And it doesn’t stop at chocolate. The market has gotten thankfully expansive with fair trade jam, soap, wine, hats, shoes, bags – I could go on.
Why is it so good?
It works in a way which provides direct benefit to those who need it, the workers, not the middle men. With unethical trade practices in large agribusinesses, such as banana plantations in the Bahamas, the workers are paid an unfair salary and the company takes most of the cut. They are also forced to work long shifts and in unhealthy conditions, but with no laws on working conditions, they have no case.
Fair trade also ensures that money stays in the community for development and better quality of life for the workers, by building community facilities such as infrastructure, health facilities and schools. Instead of huge transnational corporations running the show, we’ve got more family farms and still good quality products. Everyone’s happy (apart from the TNCs). And it’s widespread enough to make a difference.
Yes, you say all this and it’s peachy, but are there any drawbacks?
Well, it’s like the issue of banning child labour in India – you’ve lost part of the family income and an alternative is needed. There’s going to be a knock-on economic effect. People who don’t work for fair trade companies may end up becoming even more underpaid than before! The solution? The only thing I can think of would be a convention on fair trade whereby all TNCs are encouraged to sign an agreement on appropriate standards of trade practices globally. This could make unethical trade a thing of the past. However, how easy is convincing the fat cats of the corporate world to split a fair share? Answer: pretty hard. Unless we make unethical trade so rare by everyone having the means to purchase ethical products, unethical trade practices will continue (which is the difficult part – most of us love paying mega low prices).
There’s no foolproof solution as of yet, but I think fair trade has made a pretty good stand. For now, the best we’ve got to go on is to keep expanding fair trade and to continue consuming with a conscience.