With more and more products on the shelves of supermarkets, discounters, and small local stores labelled as Fair Trade, there is still little understanding on all that strands behind the concept of Fair Trade, generally explained as ‘a system of ethical trade which seeks to limit the socio-economical gap between the developed and the developing countries’.
Take chocolate for example, buying from a Fair Trade chocolate brand, most consumers know that no child, forced, or underpaid labour was involved in its production cycle, and that the cocoa is certified and free of dangerous agro-chemicals and GMOs, but there is much more than that, as the brand usually contributes to the social, economic, and environmental sustainability in many different ways.
Companies which produce Fair Trade products maximise the use of raw materials that originate from sustainably managed sources and their production technologies seeks to use renewable energy and limit greenhouse gas emissions and waste. Products are packed using recycled or biodegradable materials, and often dispatched by sea transport. Among from all measures to limit the overall impact on the environment, Fair Trade companies help tackle poverty and create opportunities for small local producers and suppliers, and respect gender equality and the right of all employees to form and join trade unions. Naturally, health and safety and working conditions and hours, in accordance with the local laws and international conventions, are strictly observed.
Furthermore, organisations promote activities which strengthen the management skills and enlarge the business opportunities for producers in developing countries, along with investing in the training of employees and better living conditions, thus helping the sustainable development by direct socio-economical investments, rather than charity or financial aid, as the first slogan of the Fair Trade movement, shaped in Europe in the 1960s, proclaims: “Trade not Aid”.
The movement for Fair Trade, dating back to the mid 20th century, quickly got its global advocates, as recorded in The New York Times, 1973: “It is time to start a new era of fair-trade relations between the developed and underdeveloped countries, in which..the real value of the latter’s commodities to Western consumers will be recognized”, to reach the mainstream with the development of the first certification initiatives for labelling Fair Trade goods.
With the first Fair Trade label created in 1988, under the initiative of the Dutch development agency Solidaridad, and appearing on Mexican coffee branded as Max Havelaar, after a fictional character who opposed the exploitation of coffee pickers in Dutch colonies; and its initiative further replicated in several other markets across Europe and North America.
In 1997, in an attempt to harmonise the certification standards of all national Fair Trade organisations, the Fairtrade International (formally known as Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International or FLO) was established in Bonn, Germany, to nowadays find nearly 1,300 Fair Trade certified producer organisations, and more than 1,65 million farmers and workers in 74 countries, and global sales of Fair Trade products reaching nearly €10 billion.