We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, And know the place for the first time. ~T.S. Eliot Four Quartets

10 August 2006

Focus on Fair Trade

Choose products with the FairTrade Mark

It was in Edinburgh in 1998 that I first noticed "Fair Trade" products. It was a tiny One World shop attached to a church. There wasn't much to choose from as I recall. Back home in Chicago, maybe I picked up an item or two at Whole Foods Market, but don't remember much. I have to admit, it wasn't until I moved back here to England, that I really became aware of the Fair Trade movement. I was surprised to find that there was such a thing as a Fair Trade town. The town of Garstang, in Lancashire was the first to declare itself "The World's First Fair Trade Town", in May of 2000 and it was here in England that the Fair Trade Town movement was born. So, six years later, here I am in Hebden Bridge, my local. What does it mean to be a declared Fair Trade Town? Five goals must be met;

  • The local council must pass a resolution to support F.T. and serve the products at its meetings
  • A range of F.T. products must be readily available in the area's shops & restaurants
  • F.T. products must be used by a number of local work places
  • Town should attract media attention & support
  • A local F.T. steering group must be convened to ensure continued committment.

Currently in Britain there are 149 declared fair trade towns (according to www.Fairtrade.org) and another 238 towns working toward fair trade status. Last month, the town of Media, Pennsylvania became the first Fair Trade Town in the U.S. I was also pleased to find that Fair Trade coalitions have now emerged in several U.S. cities including Chicago (www.Chicagofairtrade.org).

But perhaps you may wonder, what is fair trade exactly? As the logo says, it guarantees a better deal for Third World producers by buying direct from farmers at better prices and offering consumers the opportunity to buy products which were bought on the basis of a fair trade. That means better terms of trade and decent production conditions for 500,000 workers and farmers in the developing world. Fair trade labelling was created in the Netherlands in the late 1980's. The Max Havelaar Foundation launched the first fairtrade consumer guarantee label in 1988 on coffee sourced from Mexico.

Coffee is one of the most prominent fair trade items. The Fair Trade model offers small scale farmers a price for their coffee that covers the cost of production and also provides a sustainable livelihood allowing bills to be paid and education for their children. The range of Fair Trade products has grown greatly beyond coffee now, however. One of my favourites, Ben & Jerry's has just launched the first Fair Trade Ice Cream product in Europe, Fair Trade Vanilla. You can also now find, in the UK, Mangoes from South America, Avocados from Mexico & South Africa, Lychees from Mozambique, Pepper, Ginger, Turmeric and Cinnamon from Sri Lanka. There's also bananas, chocolate, nutmeg and vanilla too! If Organic is the healthy choice and Fair Trade the ethical one, thankfully, there are some Fair Trade Organic products also springing up--the best of both worlds!

More sites of interest: www.transfairusa.org, www.oxfam.org.

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