New book sells fair trade

In 1994 a bar of Green & Black’s chocolate was the first UK retail product to receive the Fairtrade mark. Thirteen years later 2,000 retail and catering products on sale in the UK carry the symbol. And there are scores of other fair trade goods, such as clothes and crafts products, produced by dedicated fair trade organisations.

Fair trade sales in the UK are currently increasing by about 40% every year. Increasingly customers see this as a mainstream way to buy – knowing they are helping some of the world’s poorest people.

Now John Madeley, occasional Developments contributor, and Miles Litvinoff have written 50 Reasons To Buy Fair Trade, explaining how fair trade is an effective way for the poor to gain from international trade.

“Fair trade is a way for shoppers to tackle poverty every time we shop,” they write. “With fair trade, producers in developing countries receive a decent return – a fair and stable price or wage for their products. And in many cases they get extra money – the ‘social premium’ built into the price of Fairtrade-certified produce – to invest in their business or community.”

The range of fair trade products is now huge. Handicrafts, coffee and chocolate came first. A wide range of foodstuffs followed. Today coffee and bananas are the biggest sellers. In addition, fair trade clothes, shoes, furniture, carpets, footballs, wine and beer, herbs and spices, baby foods, and fruit juice are all available.

The authors argue that the mainstream international trade system is failing the poor – citing for example the ‘moribund’ progress of the Doha Development Round of world trade negotiations – but while the poor cannot eat promises from the leaders of rich countries, for many the fair trade system is starting to provide a viable alternative to the mainstream trading system.

“Currently an estimated 5 million people – farmers, plantation and craft workers, and their families – are better off because of fair trade,” says the book. “The benefits are very tangible: better access to education including new schools and scholarships, new clinics and health services, improved water and sanitation systems, better housing, local environmental management, new roads, workplace democracy, community development, women’s empowerment, agricultural improvements, reduced pesticide use, micro-credit schemes, income diversification, and a host of others.”

Nicaraguan coffee grower Blanca Rosa Molina says the fair trade system “makes the difference between whether my family eats or does not eat.” And Cecilia Mwambebule, who grows tea in Tanzania, says that with fair trade “we have been able to do many things… our schools are very important. Now we have tables and chairs, and real floors and windows to keep the wind and dust out.”