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Fairtrade: An Introductory Guide to the Facts You Need

Fairtrade: An Introductory Guide to the Facts You Need

Fairtrade products have gradually made their way into the vast majority of major supermarkets into the UK, boosting accessibility for those looking to make more conscientious purchase decisions. It’s also possible to pick up thousands of Fairtrade products online from specialist retailers and wholesalers, which has become the preferred approach to shopping for countless households.

But even today, evidence suggests that many (if not most) people still do not fully understand what Fairtrade is all about. Even if they know the name and recognise the label, there’s widespread misunderstanding with regard to what Fairtrade means, what the organisation does and the potential benefits of buying Fairtrade products.  

In this brief introductory guide, we’ll be taking a look at a series of important questions on Fairtrade products and how they differ from conventional products. We’ll also be covering the benefits of Fairtrade, which extend to both the quality of the items themselves and the welfare of those producing them.

What is Fairtrade?

Roughly defined, Fairtrade is a global trade organisation that brings together farmers, producers, manufacturers, craftsmen and workers from dozens of countries worldwide. With Fairtrade, each and every person involved contributes towards the same collective goal - the creation of a network of businesses and buyers that champion ethical production, fair pay, amicable working environments and the guarantee of good health and safety for those involved.

Effectively, Fairtrade invests in businesses, regions and communities that would otherwise struggle without its support. When you buy Fairtrade, you make a direct investment in the small independent businesses involved in the scheme and the welfare of their workers. 

How Popular is Fairtrade?

Exact figures are difficult to come by, but it is estimated that the Fairtrade market in the UK is currently worth around £750 million per year. This represents growth in excess of 7% annually, suggesting that more people are buying more Fairtrade products than ever before. More impressively, some estimates suggest that as many as 94% of all households in the UK have purchased at least one Fairtrade product recently. 

The growth, expansion and evolution of the Fairtrade network has enabled producers, suppliers and retailers to continuously lower the costs of premium quality Fairtrade items. This has lead to a major spike in the popularity of Fairtrade, which is only expected to continue accelerating over the years to come.

Which Fairtrade Products Are Most Popular?

Cocoa products and confectionery have always occupied the largest share of the Fairtrade market in the UK - currently somewhere in the region of 30% of all products sold. This is followed by the segment which contains salads, fruits and vegetables at around 25%, followed by hot beverages at around 24%. 

According to a recent poll carried out by YouGov, more than 85% of all shoppers now recognise the Fairtrade brand and acknowledge its connotations with responsible trading. In addition, 55% stated that the presence of the Fairtrade logo has a significant influence on their purchase decisions.

Are Fairtrade Products Subject to Any Specific Regulations?

The fact that Fairtrade comprises such a vast network of producers, sellers and service providers from all over the world makes it impossible for any single government or authority to impose specific regulations on Fairtrade products.  Instead, therefore, the Fairtrade Association itself outlines the rules and guidelines that must be followed for products to carry the Fairtrade label. 

This includes careful monitoring of cultivation and production processes, ensuring all workers are paid fairly, providing safe working conditions and abiding by all terms and conditions outlined by the association in general.

What is the Fairtrade Foundation?

The Fairtrade Foundation (FTF) is the body that represents Fairtrade International in the UK, which takes responsibility for ensuring all producers and products using the Fairtrade comply with all applicable guidelines.

Primary FTF responsibilities include monitoring each step of the supply chain to ensure its compliance, assisting small businesses and producers in the development of new Fairtrade goods, engaging in PR activities to boost awareness of the benefits of Fairtrade and deciding which products are eligible for Fairtrade certification or otherwise.

How Can a Business Become a Fairtrade Supplier?

All applications for Fairtrade licensing in the UK are handled by the FTF, which provides an application form any interested business can submit and a subsequent Licence Agreement that must be completed before selling or marketing Fairtrade products. The FTF conducts a series of quality and responsibilities checks before issuing a Fairtrade, at which point the supply becomes liable for the standard 2% payable on all products sold and invested directly back into the initiative.

Quarterly reports must be submitted by the company to the FTF to verify its ongoing compliance with all rules and regulations outlined by the Fairtrade Association. Physical company and product audits are also conducted on an annual basis by a representative of the FTF.

What Different Types of Fairtrade Products Are Available?

The range of Fairtrade products available has skyrocketed over recent years, having once been limited to just a handful of basics like coffee, cocoa and chocolate. Today, there’s an extensive range of fruits and vegetables available with Fairtrade certification - everything from bananas, apples and citrus fruits through to coconuts, lychees and mangoes. Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages are also available, along with more diverse items like chutneys, preserves and even baby food.

Fairtrade shoppers can also now choose from a long list of non-food products, including things like homewares, cosmetics, clothing and even sports equipment.

What Are the General Guidelines for Fairtrade Products?

In order to officially qualify for Fairtrade labelling, a product must fulfil the criteria outlined by the Fairtrade association. For example, products are automatically eligible for the Fairtrade label if at least 50% of their content is Fairtrade-certified. By contrast, no product with less than 20% Fairtrade-certified content will be allowed to carry the Fairtrade label.

It is also the responsibility of the retailer (or seller) to ensure the responsibility and compliance of each link within the production, manufacturing and supply chain. Should anything unethical or questionable be detected along any point of the product’s journey, it may subsequently render the product ineligible for Fairtrade labelling.

Is Fairtrade the Same as Organic?

Not exactly, but there is a degree of overlap between the two. Just as all organic products are by no means Fairtrade in nature, the same also applies in reverse - not all Fairtrade products are organic. Under the terms and conditions outlined by the Fairtrade Association, all Fairtrade farmers and producers must take all reasonable steps to minimise their environmental impact and promote sustainability. However, there is no specific stipulation regarding the use of organic farming methods or otherwise.

This is due to the fact that the exclusive use of organic cultivation methods is implausible or even impossible for some producers. Therefore, where a farmer or producer operating within the Fairtrade initiative is unable to meet generally recognised organic standards, they will not be excluded from participation in the scheme.

Are Fairtrade Products Always More Expensive?

Fairtrade were once notoriously expensive, when compared to conventional alternatives. This was due to a combination of scarce availability and the fact that the initiative was still in something of an embryonic phase in its development. Today, Fairtrade products cost no more than conventional products of comparable quality. While it is true to say that Fairtrade may cost more than low-grade mass-produced products, the two cannot be compared in terms of quality or value for money.

The fact that Fairtrade products are almost always produced using traditional, hard-working farming and manufacturing practices means that some products will always carry a premium price tag. However, it’s a price no higher than a product of comparable quality - and a price that supports a world of good causes spanning dozens of countries.

Does Fairtrade Not Just Exploit Poorer Communities?

Last up, this is a dangerous and misleading myth that has no grounding in reality or logic. The very reason the Fairtrade Association exists is to help farmers, producers and communities that would otherwise find it impossible to compete with major brands and established producers. With the support of the Fairtrade Association, smaller businesses (often family-run) are given the opportunity to grow, develop, hire local workers and invest in their communities.

Fairtrade has successfully helped countless communities worldwide improve health and living standards, boost access to education and enable locals to earn a fair wage. By placing great emphasis on the welfare of all involved, Fairtrade is about the opposite of exploitation - it is an initiative that champions the greater good, taking at least some of the power out of the hands of the world’s biggest conglomerates. 

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