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What Does Fair Trade Really Mean? Common Myths and Misconceptions

What Does Fair Trade Really Mean? Common Myths and Misconceptions

Fair Trade products have been around for some time now and have been growing in popularity all the while. Millions of consumers have adjusted their everyday shopping lists to focus on Fair Trade items, having acknowledged the value and importance of the global initiative.

But at the same time, millions more don’t fully understand what Fair Trade is all about, or the role in plays in countless communities worldwide. Worse still, many of those unsure as to what Fair Trade stands for may have been misled by a relatively long list of myths and misconceptions about the programme in general.

To help clarify some of this confusion, here’s a brief overview of a selection of Fair Trade myths and the realities behind them:

Myth 1 - It is impossible to live on a Fair Trade wage 

This myth stems from the fact that Fair Trade wages are not based on typical wages in the western world, but are instead calculated in accordance with a number of key factors. In order to ensure Fair Trade workers and producers are paid a fair and reasonable living wage, key variables are taken into account in accordance with the location including:

  • The purchasing power in a community or area
  • Minimum and living wages where products are made
  • The amount of time, skill, and effort involved in production
  • Other costs of living in the local context

This therefore inevitably results in major wage differences from one region to the next, though nonetheless ensures that a fair living wage is paid to all Fair Trade workers and producers without question.

Myth 2 - Fair Trade creates a monopoly and is therefore uncompetitive 

Quite the opposite, the Fair Trade scheme is designed to create jobs in communities and regions where unemployment could otherwise be particularly problematic. In addition, Fair Trade Organisations champion the growth and development of smaller independent businesses - not their larger and more profitable counterparts.

The system as a whole focuses heavily on job creation and economic development in countries and communities where alternative sources of income are scarce.

Myth 3 - Fair Trade is a charity

Contrary to popular belief, Fair Trade is not a charity and therefore does not benefit from any direct handouts or funding from any government or authority.  It is a completely independent system wherein the collaborative efforts of countless Fair Trade Organisations work towards the greater good of everyone involved.

The Fair Trade programme only succeeds when the growers, producers, workers and businesses that form part of the wider network succeed. 

Myth 4 - Fair Trade results in more expensive goods for the consumer

In truth, there was once a time when Fair Trade products were comparatively expensive. This is no longer true, but it is nonetheless an association and assumption that discourages many from considering Fair Trade products. One of the main goals of the Fair Trade scheme is to cut out as many middlemen as possible, in order to offer a wide range of products to the consumer directly from the producer. This in turn results in lower purchase prices for the products and better revenues for those producing and selling them.

Subsequently, the vast majority of Fair Trade products are no more expensive than conventional products. In some instances, they can be even more cost-effective.

Myth 5 - Fair Trade products are not as high in quality

Again, this is often the exact opposite of the reality of Fair Trade. Across much of the developing world where Fair Trade Organisations operate, there is no use of mass-production methods or machinery whatsoever. Instead, everything is cultivated and produced by hand with much more meticulous attention to detail.  In turn, a long list of Fair Trade products have a tendency to be significantly higher in quality and more consistent than their conventional counterparts.

Fair Trade products have received countless awards for excellence over the years, covering everything from coffee beans to sustainable textiles.

Myth 6 - Fair Trade organisations produce comparatively few products

The ‘Fair Trade’ label has a tendency to be most closely associated with coffee beans, cocoa products and certain types of textiles. This is due to the fact that when Fair Trade was first introduced commercially in 1988, coffee and chocolate were the only products to carry Fair Trade certification. Since then, the Fair Trade program has expanded to include an extensive range of artisan producers spanning a wide variety of fields.

Today, the range of Fair Trade products available worldwide includes cosmetics, jewellery, kitchenware, home décor, toys, games and so much more besides.

Six Reasons to Switch to Fair Trade

Shopping responsibly and conscientiously isn’t always as easy as it sounds.  Whether picking up products online or at a local supermarket, there’s a near-endless list of labels, awards and accolades touted by products and producers from all over the world.

As a result, the Fair Trade label is often overlooked as just another ‘face’ in the whole sustainability crowd. But when it comes to responsible shopping, products that are Fair Trade certified should be prioritised for a variety of reasons.

There’s no shortage of fads and gimmicks that can trick you into thinking you’re doing the right thing with your money. With Fair Trade, there are at least six arguments for ensuring you support the cause when shopping for everyday essentials:

1. You’re supporting small scale farmers and producers around the world 

The primary objective of the Fair Trade initiative is to support small scale farmers, producers and workers worldwide, who would otherwise struggle to sustain their businesses and generate a viable form of income. This is due to the fact that Fair Trade ensures everyone involved in the production process is paid a fair wage, providing financial security and significantly reducing the risk of exploitation.

2. Fair Trade is all about fair workers’ rights 

Of course, simply ensuring that all workers are paid a fair wage they can comfortably live off is not quite enough. Fair Trade is also committed to workers’ rights protection, in order to ensure that every employee under the scheme has access to safe working conditions, adequate health and safety coverage and so on. Again, an important effort to reduce the risk of exploitation and to protect vulnerable people and children in particular.

3. You’re helping the planet when you buy Fair Trade

The Fair Trade program exclusively supports smaller businesses and producers that abide by strict rules regarding sustainability and environmental preservation. In particular, the use of toxic chemicals and pesticides in the cultivation of Fair Trade products is strictly prohibited. In addition, those involved in the scheme must ensure their carbon footprint is as minimal as possible and that agricultural practices that permanently damage the land are avoided or reduced.

4. Fair Trade helps support developing communities in general 

When you buy Fair Trade products, you make an important investment in the wider communities in which Fair Trade businesses operate. This extends to things like improved sanitation, clean drinking water, access to education, better health care and overall improvements to essential infrastructure. The Fair Trade program is committed to improving quality of life in developing communities worldwide, by supporting local businesses and creating employment opportunities.

5. Fair Trade products can be better for your health

In addition to the above, the benefits of choosing products that are pesticide-free and chemical-free are self-explanatory. Extensive studies have shown the devastating effects many widely-used agricultural chemicals can have on human health, which are often irreversible. As Fair Trade supports traditional organic farming practices and the elimination of toxic pesticides, choosing Fair Trade could subsequently be beneficial for your health.

6. Fair Trade products are delicious

As an added bonus, advocates of the program proclaim that by a significant margin, Fair Trade products taste so much better than conventional alternatives.  This may be attributed to the traditional, hard-working cultivation practices of Fair Trade farmers in developing communities worldwide. It could also be partly due to the feel good factor that comes with knowing your Fair Trade products are making a difference, one bite at a time!

In Summary…

Even today, the single biggest factor that discourages the average shopper from buying more Fair Trade products is concerns over pricing. When compared like-for-like with products of similar quality, Fair Trade is no more expensive - it can even be cheaper.

Either way, supporters of the scheme would (quite rightly) argue that you cannot put a price on the benefits outlined above. From safe farming practices to sustainability to supporting local communities, every Fair Trade product purchased makes a real difference.

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