Look trade chocolate. The majority of Fairtrade suppliers

Look beyond the label


When you want to help out Third
World farm workers, it would be wise not to have a “Fairtrade” breakfast — or for
that matter anything else labelled “Fairtrade.” Why? The Fairtrade label is a
facade. At its best, Fairtrade is a private labelling system designed to give
consumers confidence that someone, somewhere, is benefitting from their fair
trade latte, or artisan fair trade chocolate bar. At its worst, Fairtrade is a
method of brainwashing first-world consumers into buying overpriced products
that do not help the poor. There is no arguing with the fact that low income
countries need our support to put in place economic policies that work. It is
simply the case that “Fairtrade” may have started as a well-meaning concept;
now it is just not good enough.

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You’re most likely to see the
Fairtrade label at a high end coffee shops or overpriced grocery stores —
especially ones with a “progressive” clientele. The Fairtrade label is supposed
to let you enjoy your latte without having to feel guilty for taking advantage
of an exploited Ethiopian or impoverished Ecuadoran who harvested the beans.

Liberal latte sippers are instead free to smile over their morning cup of
Fairtrade coffee, gratified at the unimaginable impact their thoughtfully
chosen beans must be bringing to poor coffee growers overseas. Oh, countless
Hollywood A-Listers endorse it — but the main value it brings is the feeling of
socially conscious, smug satisfaction to comfortable, liberal consumers.


Most consumers blindly presume
Fairtrade guarantees better pay for agricultural workers in developing
countries, without bothering to investigate. The Fairtrade USA website insists,
“We can change the world by changing our breakfast.” Well I beg to differ: By
changing our breakfast, the only thing we are changing is the margin made by
companies in the first world. In reality, the direct benefits of Fairtrade are
shockingly small and rarely go to the least well-off. So, allow me to confute
common misconceptions about fair trade.


Fairtrade is not for people
living in severe poverty. I hate to burst the bubble of ignorance citizens of
the first world are living in, but Fairtrade is simply not lifting anyone out
of extreme poverty. In reality, the Fairtrade movement follows a sickeningly
plutocratic logic. In order to join Fairtrade, cooperatives must meet certain
quality standards, which means their farmers must be relatively well educated
and capitalised. It’s astoundingly obvious when one looks at the facts – these
farmers are far from the impoverished Ecuadorian you picture when buying fair
trade chocolate. The majority of Fairtrade suppliers are in the middle income
bracket of developing countries, with next to none in majorly underdeveloped,
poorer areas. So think twice before taking a bite out of that Fairtrade
chocolate bar, or buying the fair trade bananas in your local organic food
shop. You purchase will certainly not lift anyone out of extreme poverty.


In fact, you are just being duped
by yet another marketing scheme.


Here is another distressing
discovery: rules surrounding Fairtrade are not exactly based on humanitarian principles.

Fairtrade consumers are lulled into a false sense of security with the
knowledge that products that are fair trade have to comply with a specific set
of rules. Surprise: These rules are absurd. One of the “rules” of Fairtrade
products is that children who work on farms have to go to school; their
education cannot be affected by work. Splendid – after being in school for 6
hours, already famished and enervated, adolescents can spend the rest of their
miserable day doing backbreaking work on a farm, planting “Fairtrade” coffee
beans, or harvesting “ethical, Fairtrade” cocoa beans. There is a major flaw in
the system – consumers have a very different perception of what Fairtrade means
to producers. While we in the first world believe that farmers are at one with
Mother Nature, planting beans joyously, the reality is destitute, despondent
and dispirited workers, toiling away day and night.


Furthermore, the selected few farms
that qualify for the Fairtrade label do not necessarily in any way shape or
form provide a higher quality of life for farmers. These farms are seldom
better than their non Fairtrade counterparts. In the few farms where facilities
are better, the beneficiaries are not who you would think. In one Fairtrade tea
co-operative, the modern toilets are exclusively for the use of foreign senior
managers. Does anyone else smell the aroma of modern colonialism rather than of
ethically produced coffee beans? So what is
the extra two pounds we pay for Fairtrade goods doing? Allowing already wealthy
senior managers to use clean toilets? Now I feel so much better about the Fair
Trade coffee I drank a few days ago –  it
really is going to make a difference!


You can however rest assured that
the extra money you spend on fair trade goods is actually going to farmers –
they often receive a whole extra penny because of your selfless purchase. In a
UK-government funded study, it was found that, “Just 10% of the premium
consumers pay for Fairtrade actually goes to the producer.” Producers in the
first world pocket most of this money, thus leaving the farmers that actually
need our help with next to nothing – a grand total of less than 1% of the price
consumers pay. So, farmers typically receive one or two pence extra, at most,
if their farms are Fairtrade. The main concern today seems to be making
attempts (that are largely futile) to increase farmers’ wages by ludicrously
small amounts rather than really transforming poor communities through
development, modernisation, even industrialisation. The majority of the
population are sadly unaware of these unpalatable facts. There remains an
enormous discrepancy between pay, conditions, and opportunity that we as
first-world citizens would regard as acceptable, compared with those of the
producers of most Fairtrade products being bought. Claims of Fairtrade are
erroneous, inaccurate and misleading. Allow me to summarise what is occurring.

Consumers are paying more for products, which do next to no good.


Contrary to
popular belief, it is also shockingly simple to hijack the seemingly sacrosanct
term “Fairtrade.” The majority of comfortable consumers are blissfully blind to
the fact that the UK Fairtrade symbol certifies only raw materials and not finished goods. You can buy a T-shirt made
from fair-trade cotton that could, in theory, have been made into a finished
article in a sweatshop. Unfortunately, there are no rules that stop the
manufacturer advertising this as an ethical shirt; branding it with a Fairtrade
logo. Consumers who think they are choosing an ethically untainted product
might actually be buying clothing sewn with child labour or finished in a
dangerously overheated factory.


So the Fairtrade logo is
deceiving. The circle incorporates “a blue sky symbolizing optimism.” Be that
as it may, children working in sweatshops don’t typically get to see the sky
for large portions of the day, and their futures are far from optimistic. The
logo also contains “green for growth.” The Fairtrade movement is only nurturing
the growth of false marketing and low ethical standards in supposedly
“irreproachable” farms. The Ying and Yang –esque nature of the logo suggests
peace and harmony. Third world farmers however, most likely find Fairtrade far
from peaceful – just a method of exploiting their poverty to make consumers pay


Genuine fair trade should be
welcomed. It has the potential to be innovative and efficient. However, the
unfettered trade that exploits the poor, that we call “Fairtrade” is based
largely upon who can pay least to those producing our goods. This must not be
accepted as “Fair Trade.” Fairtrade makes cunning use of the almost infinite
capacity for guilt harboured by the residents of wealthy countries over the
condition of those in poorer ones. When did educated human beings lose the
ability to question what they are buying? We must start looking beyond the


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