At the supermarkets in Switzerland (even at Denner), I would spot the little blue, black and green label and know that product made it to my shopping basket after passing through the hands of a worker who received fair pay for his or her labor. Here in San Diego, it seems like I have to search far and wide for fairly traded products. Even then, I am mostly limited to chocolate, tea and coffee (all essential elements in my kitchen, of course), whereas in Switzerland we could also buy Fair Trade certified bananas, cotton underpants, cotton swabs, dried fruit, rice, quinoa, pure cane sugar, fruit juice, spices, jams, flowers, soccer balls, baking cocoa and chocolate drink mix.
So what's with all the fuss about fair trade?
FACT: To bring you that $3.00 cup of non-fair trade coffee, the farmers earned about 2 cents.
I think it's safe to assume most people understand that when Fair Trade certified producers pay their workers a fair living wage, families thrive. Kids get to go to school. There's more nutritious food on the table. But how can consumers be sure that workers' families are really benefiting from better wages?
What I found most impressive about Fair Trade as a movement is its system of accountability for both producers and buyers. In order for producers to receive Fair Trade certification, they must work closely with an organization called FLO-Cert (a division of FLO International). For example, family-run coffee co-op X must provide evidence of several factors before FLO-Cert gives them the green light to sell their products as "Fair Trade Certified."
First, producers must prove that all workers are treated with respect in a safe working environment, which includes assurance that no one is working under forced labor and there exists equal opportunity for all employees regardless of gender or race. The organization also prohibits child labor. Next, there must be full disclosure of every step of the process from planting to harvesting. Finally, FLO-Cert wants to ensure that co-op X's farm land will still be fit for future generations of farmers, so producers learn to abide by sustainable farming methods. As a result, their practices involve environmentally responsible approaches to the use of chemicals, water and other natural resources as well as careful disposal of waste.
Producers do have to pay a fee to earn Fair Trade certification and it seems like a rigorous process, so is it all worth it? It appears so. On top of certifying particular products, FLO International also has partnerships with national and regional organizations that oversee the actual trade process. For example, gourmet shop Y in California wants to start carrying Fair Trade certified products. The buyers look through a list of certified producers and products and decide they want to purchase coffee beans from co-op X. That's fine and dandy, but the only way gourmet shop Y will be able to put a Fair Trade certified label on those beans is to go through TransFair USA, which is basically a labeling and licensing organization. (The Swiss equivalent is Max Havelaar.) TransFair USA only grants permission to use the label when the trade between the two groups is indeed fair.
The buyers at gourmet shop Y must pay a minimum price that will at least cover all the costs associated with producing the beans, including fair workers wages. (FLO International sets the minimum standard.) Shop Y also pays a special premium to co-op X that they use to invest in projects around their community. Finally, the two groups form a trading partnership that ensures co-op X can count on future business from gourmet shop Y. Increased business, community empowerment, social and environmental responsibility -- I know it's easier said than done, but it seems worth the investment.
Another great part about the Fair Trade movement is that it's easy to support. You love your coffee beans, so buy the ones with the Fair Trade label. It's true, they can be a bit more expensive at times, but isn't it worth it?
I know, I know, this coming from the "On a Budget" gal. What can I say? I guess I'm not so cheap after all. (Actually, things like coffee or tea don't cost much more if at all. A chocolate bio-FTC chocolate bar from Migros costs 2 francs as opposed to 1.70 - I can deal with that!)
Look for these labels when you're out shopping:
|Clockwise from top left: Older FT logo in USA, Outside of USA/Max Havelaar label, and newest labels in USA.|
Click here for a list of FTC stuff you can buy from shops you already frequent in the States.
Click here for a list of new FTC products available in CH.