The 21st century backdrop of poverty of wealth and natural resources has prompted the birth of a number of different ethical trade organisations that complement the work of the Fairtrade Foundation. The Rainforest Alliance, Café de Colombia, Traidcraft and the recent establishment of an international fair trade mark for flowers by Unions Fleurs are but a handful.
However, while they all have their own merits, critics claim that few of these organisations match up to the ideals contained in the international definition of fair trade, agreed by the International Fairtrade Labelling Organisations (FLO) or the international Fair Trade Association (FAT), a fact causing increased confusion among retailers and consumers alike.
Over the past ten years the Fairtrade Foundation has established itself as the most widely recognised mark of integrity and quality by both the trade and consumers. Its primary concern is for the welfare of smaller disadvantaged farmers in the developing world. The foundation awards the Fairtrade mark, which guarantees these farmers a better deal for their products in international trade.
Fairtrade certification is unique
in that it determines a minimum floor price that buyers must pay, as well as offering additional premiums and long-term commitments and contracts. The Fairtrade mark is currently carried on more than 1,300 different products in all major supermarkets, independent and fair trade shops. “I work with the Fairtrade Foundation secure in the knowledge that it is transparent,” says Mike Batten, director at Venture Foods. “It guarantees a set of standards that will be met. I don’t have to worry about its ethics or decision-making processes. I stick close to the foundation.”
The Rainforest Alliance takes a quite different approach. Its mission is to “protect ecosystems and the people and wildlife that depend on them by establishing sustainable ways of working the land”. It awards the Rainforest Alliance seal of approval - symbolised by a small green frog, which appears on a number of products in the catering sector, including Kenco Sustainable Development Coffee. The Alliance is keen to point out that it does not aspire to rival Fairtrade, as it does not intervene on issues of coffee pricing and involves farms of all sizes.
The Soil Association Ethical Trade is another new scheme being piloted by the Soil Association to address some of the problems being experienced by UK farmers. The Ethical trade label is awarded for criteria including fair price for UK farmers as well as for members of the supply chain, treatment of workers and involvement in the local community.
These are three of a growing list of different trading models, to which a burgeoning list of different brands are now subscribing themselves.
While differences may be clear on paper, there is growing concern that this increasing proliferation of ethically traded products is confusing the consumer and that the boundaries of what is truly fair trade, and what is not, are becoming increasingly difficult to discern.
“For the retailer this is a potentially dangerous situation. Over-exploitation could eventually undermine the whole movement, and leave retailers out of pocket,” says Steven Macatona, director of Union Coffee Roasters. “Buyers need to ask more about the real ethics of the brands that they stock and think in greater detail about what their customers really want.”