INTRODUCTION

Those haunting images of people starving to death in the poorer
parts of the world always cause us deep upset. No-one wants poverty in
the world, yet it seems to be with us all the time. Despite the huge
focus on global poverty in the lead-up to this year’s G8 summit in
Scotland, those images still persist.

The horror of those images
and the sheer scale of the numbers – one billion living on less than a
dollar a day – leave us numb and often feeling impotent. What can we
do? People are demanding that the world’s leaders intervene, but
governments are often slow and ineffective.

Yet the public are
starting to realise that they have real power as consumers and that
they can change the world simply by changing their shopping habits.

More
people are buying Fairtrade goods in the knowledge that they are
lifting people out of poverty as a direct result of their consumer
lifestyle choice.

The impact of one person changing to Fairtrade
goods is minuscule, but with thousands of people following the same
path the impact is significant. The sales of Fairtrade products in the
UK doubles year-onyear as awareness and availability increases.

The
concept behind Fairtrade is simple. Pay the poor farmer a fair price
for the product and you will lift the farmer out of poverty
immediately. Make sure that the working conditions are continually
improving and invest in the surrounding infrastructure of the village
and community. Then you have to sell the goods in the West.

You
have to sell the concept, create a trademark which guarantees
authenticity and then produce a range of goods which people want to buy.

By
connecting the producer with the buyer in this way you are creating
something that is positive. Consumers now understand this concept and
actively seek out the Fairtrade Mark, which is organised by the
Fairtrade Foundation.

Coffee is the best-known product to be
associated with Fairtrade but there are now a huge and growing range of
products with the Fairtrade label. In addition to coffee, foodstuffs
such as chocolate and bananas are popular, and you can now kick around
Fairtrade footballs, get merry on Fairtrade wine or beer and even make
someone happy by buying Fairtrade flowers.

The quality of the goods is crucial.

Consumers might be convinced by the concept, but they will quickly turn off if the quality is not right.

In
the very early days the struggle was to produce coffee which was
acceptable to Western standards. But now the quality is assured across
the trademark, with many products coming out top for quality compared
with non-Fairtrade goods. And the range of goods keeps increasing.

Cotton has just been added and there are fashion designers keen to develop Fairtrade labels.

With this increase in awareness, keeping the authenticity of the Fairtrade label is crucial.

Unscrupulous
retailers are calling some of their goods “fairly traded” and selling
goods under a heading which is not really appropriate and works against
the whole ethic of what’s being produced. There is a danger that the
bigselling chains begin to source their own “fair trade” goods without
heeding the supply chain compliance needed to obtain the Fairtrade
label.

However, the big supermarkets such as Tesco and Asda are
stocking genuine Fairtrade goods and this has given much greater
availability to the Fairtrade products.

To many it might seem a
contradiction that Fairtrade companies let supermarkets chains stock
their goods, as these very supermarkets are accused of being part of
the problem because of their buying and pricing policies. The practical
answer is that these supermarkets offer a massive distribution channel.
With sales of goods increasing more is being done to lift people out of
poverty.

The market leader continues to be the Co-op, which has
long championed the cause of Fairtrade. It refuses to stock anything
but Fairtrade coffee and many of its advertising campaigns are
exclusively about Fairtrade products which raises general awareness of
the issue at hand.

Fairtrade remains and will remain a connection
between the rich Western world and the poor countries of Africa and
South America, but many ask if the concept can be applied locally.

Can
a Fairtrade brand be applied to farmers in Britain? With searching
questions being asked about the viability of our food chain and concern
about the big boys sweeping all before them, new concepts like farmers’
markets are growing in popularity. People can buy fresh organic
products while supporting their local farmer.

This has to be good
news, but the feeling is that by adding local products and issues into
the mix it will simply dilute the key issue, however laudable the aim
may be.

Fairtrade is all about tackling poverty in the southern
areas of the world and the associated label must remain focused on that
single issue if it is to continue to be successful.

However,
everyone is looking for a fairer and more sustainable world where all
people can share in its fruits. We have to protect the environment and
everyone on the planet. There is no need for us to endure poverty in
the world and we can create viable systems which mean that trade has a
level playing field and that the environment is protected in the
process.

As consumer awareness continues to grow, so Fairtrade will continue to develop.

The
ultimate aim has to be to change the whole way global trade is
conducted, but in the meantime consumers have a real opportunity to be
empowered and create a change in the world by simply buying Fairtrade
goods.

Mel Young, editor-in-chief, New Consumer

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