Fairtrade, Fair-trade, or Fairly Traded?… Investigating the Ethics Behind the Term

FT advert for Orientation GuideHave you ever wondered what the difference is between labels which claim to be fairly traded? While picking out that packet of rice on your way home from work I bet this is the last thing on your mind! Is a ‘Fairtrade’ product better than one that says ‘fair-trade’, or one that says ‘fairly traded’…

Well for some time now our chefs and catering managers in our halls of residence have been splitting hairs over just these differences. I am here to tell you why – and who it matters to!

Our story begins with St Andrews being a Fairtrade town (one word spelling), which has a townwide steering group that meets in order to raise awareness, campaign, and continually improve this status (http://www.fairtrade-standrews.org.uk/). The University also has Fairtrade status (one word spelling as well) and a steering group who do much the same work (http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/fairtrade/). Both groups are made up of the loveliest people (as I am a member of both I can vouch for this!) and are always eager for newcomers to join them (that means YOU).

…As part of the University Fairtrade status, our halls of residence as well as other catering outlets are encouraged to provide as many Fairtrade goods as possible. Thus far we are exceedingly proud to offer Fairtrade coffee, teas, sugar, select baked goods, select fruits, and of course, everyone’s favourite… chocolate!

Not content with resting on these laurels, we have been investigating additional Fairtrade items to offer which support the ethical responsibilities taken seriously by the Univeristy (most recently incorporated in or Sustainable Development 2012-2022 policy http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/environment/sdstrategy/). Fairtrade cotton has caught the attention of BESS, the Student’s Union shop, where select Fairtrade clothing is offered. Most recently however, our chefs discovered fairly traded lentils and rice which comes from Malawian growers and helps support their livelihoods through a give-back scheme (http://www.justtradingscotland.co.uk/categories/901-Malawi-Kitchen/products). We were overjoyed to find these new ethically sourced items to offer in our halls which get consumed by such large amounts and on such a regular basis.

Low and behold, these lentils and rice products are not certified by the Fairtrade organisation, and therefore cannot be referred to as Fairtrade – instead they must be called ‘fairly traded’. While this is a slight issue for our steering groups who cannot include these items in representing their Fairtrade status (but that is largely beside the point)… we decided once and for all to figure out the phraseology of these two simple words. And here we have it:

“Fairtrade is an ethical standards label which provides a guarantee, via audits carried out by an independent certification body, that developing world producers have been paid a fair price, and had decent working conditions, for products carrying the Fairtrade mark. In the UK the Fairtrade Foundation (http://www.fairtrade.org.uk) licenses companies to use the Fairtrade mark on products that meet the Fairtrade standards…”

“Fairly-traded refers to products that don’t have Fairtrade certification but which state they have been traded in an ethical manner. Businesses registered with, and listed on, the ethical networks World Fair Trade Organization – WFTO (http://www.wfto.com) or The British Association For Fair Trade Shops – BAFTS (http://www.bafts.org.uk) are dedicated to trading fairly and creating trading partnerships, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, which seek greater equity in international trade… The process of agreeing international Fairtrade standards can take time, and for many of the products these organisations sell, there may not yet be standards available to certify their products. Businesses selling fairly-traded products who are members of the WFTO or BAFTS should have ethics keywords of fairly-traded and either WFTO member or BAFTS member in their categorisation on the mapping…”

“Other ‘fair trade’ claims: There are also other companies making their own ‘fair trade’ or ‘fairly-traded’ claims without having the independent scrutiny of the Fairtrade certification mark, or being part of a recognised network such as WFTO and BAFTS. You should ask what these claims are based upon and satisfy yourself that the company is working to fair trade principles in its dealings with suppliers. For instance the company should be able to demonstrate that it has a transparent supply chain, meaning that it can trace the journey of the product back to its original source, and be able to ensure that producers have been paid a fair price for their work…”

(Source: http://www.purpledot.org/mapping/faqs/fairtrade-or-fairly-traded#sthash.zbsTXyfl.uSh6Pcai.dpuf)

So there you have it! Each of these phrases might be a headache to us, our chefs, and the procurement office… but to the grower, say the Malawian lentil & rice farmer, the real meaning is in the action. Fair trade however you spell it should mean ethical trade, a benefitial and just exchange between both parties. So please… continue buying & eating ethically!

We’ll be unveiling some exciting Fairtrade projects in the near future, so stay tuned…

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