Change the entire world with a shopping trolley

Updated on 18 March 2011 | 0 Comments

Find out how you can make the world a better place using only your supermarket shopping trolley!

We’re clean in the middle of Fairtrade Fortnight 2011. Have you noticed?

The Fairtrade Foundation claims that 30m people are aware of this annual festival of the organisation’s work which, primarily, is about getting a fair deal for food producers across the developing world – it helps 7.5m people.

I’m not going to spell it out for you: we all know that farmers of, say, bananas, coffee, tea, cocoa and sugar don’t necessarily get a fair price for their wares, or perhaps their pay and working conditions are less than satisfactory.

Fairtrade goes mainstream

Unlike organic produce, Fairtrade has become less a lifestyle choice than a way of life in the UK. For several years, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose have only sold Fairtrade bananas, making the item the most popular Fairtrade item on the shelves.

Two years ago, sugar giant Tate & Lyle announced it was to offer only fairly-traded sugar, a market then worth £56m a year.

Both sugar and bananas are big business – mega business really. Changes like these from behemoth suppliers and supermarkets have an enormous impact on the little people at the bottom of the heap.

You have the power

As consumers, we have the power to nudge prices, pay and working conditions in the right direction, if we’re willing to spend a bit more money on our shopping.

And the concept has come a long way. Look what it’s done for cocoa farmers, for example. Or for fruit, vegetable and cotton producers.

In fact, nowadays, most of us buy Fairtrade tea and coffee every day without even realizing it. Partly because more brands on supermarket shelves are Fairtrade, and partly because we are no longer charged over the odds for a guilt-free cuppa.

The concept has been mainstreamed so successfully, we don’t ever need to think about it.

Or do we?

Glitches in the system

The fact is, if everything we bought was ‘fair trade’, then millions of farmers wouldn’t be living in poverty.

Despite all the progress that has been made, there are still two major glitches in the Fairtrade system, and it’s unclear how they’ll ever be overcome. 

1) Supermarket price wars

First of all there’s the behaviour of the supermarkets who feed under-nourished families in the developing world with one, very public, hand, and rip the roofs from over their heads with the other.

An example of this is the banana price wars started by ASDA in late 2009. It cut the price down to 38p a kilo, and Tesco followed suit at 35p a kilo. Obviously workers on banana plantations can never benefit from this, even if it gives us access to absurdly cheap fruit. There’s a good explanation of how Asda pulled it off here.

2) Neglected and abused

There are still many places in the world where farmers get a rotten deal, because fair-trade campaigners have yet to raise awareness about the atrocities committed in the name of cheap food.

For example, are you aware of the abuse of workers and use of child labour in Cote d’Ivoire’s cocoa plantations? A huge proportion of our cocoa is grown there but, unfortunately, the Fairtrade concept is still a rarity when it comes to cocoa and chocolate.

What can I do?

Remember, companies jump on the Fairtrade bandwagon because they have to trumpet their social responsibility to concerned consumers. And it is this behaviour which has given Fairtrade a real fighting chance, and the chance it could be genuinely mainstreamed.

You might not want to start campaigning on behalf of Fairtrade, but an easy thing we can all do is to vote with our pockets. If we won’t buy cheap bananas, the supermarkets won’t try and sell them to us.

Even better, why not refuse to buy anything at all from supermarkets who work consciously against the Fairtrade movement? Use the power of your purse. 

Tell us what you think of Fairtrade produce

Do you always buy Fairtrade? Do you agree with the concept? Is it too difficult to put your ethics before your own purse? Please share your thoughts using the comments box below!

Also worth your attention:

The Fairtrade Store

Guardian fair trade news

Rhubarb season


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