We’ve all seen the Fair Trade logo on our coffee, and have a pretty good grasp of the concepts. Basically it means we can buy a coffee without having a twinge of guilt about the person who grew the coffee beans. It sounds fantastic, but does fair trading really work? And what about those little green frog logos on the coffees at McDonald’s? Doesn’t that feel a bit odd? It can all get confusing, so let’s have a look at what fair trading is and the differences between Fair Trade and the Rainforest Alliance.
What is Fair Trade
Fair Trade is an international organisation that makes sure farmers and workers in the developing world are paid fairly, have decent working conditions and are working sustainably.
It started in the 1940s and 1950s, when some people sold fairly-traded crafts from poorer countries in what they called World Shops. The movement grew, and in 1988, the first fair trade-labelled coffee was sold. By 1997, the different companies that were selling fairly traded things merged into Fair Trade, and the logo as we know it was put onto our food.
How does Fair Trade help
Fair Trade farming stops the exploitation of cheap labour, and stops richer countries raking in profits and paying their workers barely anything. Even better, it means farmers and workers in the developing world can have some control over their working conditions and profits.
Fair Trade pays a higher price than most, so workers are given a chance to get out of poverty. Fair Trade pay wages in two ways: they set a minimum price so workers will be paid a fair price, and then they pay a premium on top of that which goes into a fund for community projects, farm improvements and environmental conservation.
The premium fund is run by a co-op by the workers themselves. Each worker has a vote in how they want the money to be spent. The funds are used to do good things like build schools and child care centres, give free medical and dental care, award college scholarships, begin reforestation and soil conservation and run courses about environmental awareness.
Why is Fair Trade important
Fair Trade gives some of the poorest workers in the world dignity and choice. It educates, inspires and improves living standards for workers, their families and communities. It also encourages sustainable and often, organic, farming.
A lot of impact studies have shown that workers under Fair Trade have a massively improved life. They have a lower infant mortality rate, less household debt, better access to education and training, more sustainable practices, more access to credit and low-cost loans, better eating habits, and more powerful ties to their selling organisations.
When we see the Fair Trade logo, we know workers have been treated and paid fairly. We’re also sure that we haven’t (even unwittingly) contributed to exploitation. Even better: if we need an excuse to buy guilt-free chocolate and coffee, one impact study says that the more people buy Fair Trade products the more farmers will benefit.
Certification bodies and labels
All certified Fair Trade producers have been closely looked at by expert auditors. The auditors go to the farms or plantations and look at everything from how the crops are grown and harvested, to health and safety, to pay, to collective bargaining, and to profit sharing.
The auditor’s report is sent to FLO-CERT (Fairtrade Labelling Organizations: the independent company who certifies Fair Trade producers). If everything is in order, the farm is accredited.
The farm or plantation can then trade with a certified seller, or link in with the Fair Trade network in their country. From there they can trade their sustainable, ethically-made produce with the world.
What is Rainforest Alliance
Rainforest Alliance is similar to Fair Trade, and is committed to sustainable farming in developing countries. It started in 1986 with a small group of people who worked to certify sustainable forestry, and by the mid 1990s they were certifying banana, coffee and cocoa farms. One main difference is Rainforest Alliance’s focus on the environment.
Rainforest Alliance states that the conservation of trees, wildlife and eco-systems is the foundation of everything they do. They only certify farmers and plantations that are committed to reforestation and conserving soils and other natural resources.
The other major difference is that Rainforest Alliance let their logo be used on products that are only 30 per cent certified. Fair Trade’s products are 100 per cent certified. Rainforest Alliance says products that use the minimum level of 30 per cent lets more farmers into the scheme, and that even 30 per cent is making a huge difference.
The logo for Rainforest Alliance is in the shape of a seal of approval, with a little green frog in its centre surrounded by the words ‘Rainforest Alliance Certified’. Recently in Australia, the logo has become more well known. You can see it on coffee cups at McDonalds, and at coffee shops like the Daily Grind Coffee Co., and Gloria Jean’s.
Rainforest Alliance sees no problems with multinationals, such as Unilever, Kraft, Mars, McDonald’s and Nestlé, using their logo. They believe this shows the companies have a commitment to sustainability.
How is Rainforest Alliance different to Fair Trade
Unlike Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance doesn’t set minimum prices for produce or trade. They believe that an well-managed farm will set their own prices, negotiate fair rates, grow better quality food and conserve their land for future generations. Farmers will learn to negotiate for themselves and gain independence from Rainforest Alliance.
Fair Trade doesn’t agree. They argue that Rainforest Alliance doesn’t have the economic know-how to really set up long-term sustainable development. They also argue that 80 per cent of Rainforest Alliance’s farmers are workers on huge plantations being paid minimum wage. In Fair Trade, 80 per cent of farms are small (five people or less) and they empower people to trade in the global market and to work sustainably. Rainforest Alliance believes that because it works with large landowners it is able to work larger amounts of land sustainably.
Main food groups affected
Fair Trade food products available in Australia and New Zealand are tea, coffee, chocolate, cocoa, sugar and nuts (and in non-food items, cotton and even sports balls). Globally, Fair Trade food products include fresh fruit such as bananas, pineapples and coconuts, cereals and grains, cakes and biscuits, confectionery and honey
Rainforest Alliance foods in Australia and New Zealand are coffee and tea. Globally, Rainforest Alliance also has certified producers of bananas, juice and mangoes.
For more information:
- Fair Trade International at: www.fairtrade.net
- Fair Trade Australia and New Zealand at: http://www.fta.org.au. This site has some downloadable podcast interviews with Operations Manager, Cameron Neil
- Search for Fair Trade products, stores and cafés near you at: beta.fairlylocal.com. They also have a free iPhone app;
- http://www.fairtraderesource.org/learn-up/fair-trade-films is a short film about Fair Trade with an option to add yourself and share with friends through Facebook
- www.rainforest-alliance.org. You can do a search here of coffee and tea brands to make sure they have the little green frog on them
- www.wfto.com is the World Fair Trade Organization where you can read how the Fair Trade movement started;
- There are a few books about the Fair Trade movement, mainly focusing on coffee production. Brewing Justice:Fair Trade Coffee,Sustainability and Survival by Daniel Jaffee gives a good summary of Fair Trade versus free trade; Fair Trade:A Beginner’s Guide by Jacqueline DeCarlo tells inspirational stories from Fair Trade communities; Fair Trade:Market-Driven Ethical Consumption by Alex Nicholls and Charlotte Opal puts Fair Trade into perspective within the capitalist economy