Economy, Lifestyle, Okology

Lights and shadows of “Fair Trade”

More than 1.2 million farmers in 66 developing countries produce goods such as sugar, coffee and cotton to promote social justice in poor regions. But not everyone benefits and there are even some negative effects.


Luces y sombras 5Benjamin Serra


The impact of consumerism in the first world for people living in poor countries has reached such magnitude that if the rest of the world were to consume in the same way, the equivalent of four additional planet Earths would be required.

In order to curb this excessive consumerism the idea of responsible consumption was born and with it, fair trade.

Supported by products that value social justice, ethics and solidarity, this presents a new and alternative trading concept compared to other movements against poverty.

Coca 3 campesinos recogiendo hermosaSince it is not limited to transferring resources to build infrastructure it focuses on support for the import, distribution and sale of products. Since the 1950s, some non-profit importers decided to sell products grown in lesser-favoured countries eliminating intermediaries to compete on prices.

Little by little, more organizations became interested in this type of trade in Europe and North America. Thus, in 1997, these organizations created the Fairtrade Labelling Organization (FLO), an international organization with the mission to establish the standards of fair trade products

Fairtrade products

FairtradeCoffee is the most important fairtrade product; after oil, coffee is the raw material with the highest volume of business around the world. Around 80% of world production is supplied by small farmers.

There are more than 300 small producers who are concentrated in Latin America, most in Colombia, Mexico and Peru, but also in African countries such as Uganda and Rwanda, and in Asia, mainly in India.

Luces y sombras 4However, along with coffee other fair trade products are included such as sugar, cotton, cocoa, honey, rice, tea, wine, some spices and herbs and fruits such as bananas.

In the case of cocoa, more than 30 developing countries produce this food to provide it to 14 million people. More than one billion farmers in poor countries earn a living, principally thanks to the production of rice.

But with any of these products it is fundamental that the seal of fair trade is incorporated. This label guarantees that the producer has received a fair price for their work.

Luces y sombras 7However, it is usual to find products, especially of crafts, considered to be of fair trade but their production processes vary from one production centre to another and therefore it is difficult to assess the production costs of the object to set a price.

Despite this, sports balls, produced in a controversial industry, renowned for long working hours and deplorable conditions, have also been established as a product of fair trade.. The seal guarantees that during production child labour has not been exploited in areas such as Pakistan, where 75% of soccer balls are manufactured.


Luces y sombras 6With all these products, prices covering production costs are fixed and a supplement called “Fair trade Premium” is added to invest in the agricultural communities in social, economic and environmental improvement projects. Thus, farmers and workers jointly decide which projects to invest this aid in, most generally being earmarked for health and education.

Although working in countries on several continents, Africa has benefited the most from this initiative since 58% of all workers within this system live there. Latin America and the Caribbean represent 25% of all farmers and the continents of Asia and Oceania 17%.

Luces y sombras 13According to the latest data from 2011, there are 538 producer organisations in Latin America, 299 in Africa and 154 in Asia. The organizational structure is clear; use the minimum number of intermediaries, only those necessary from each of these communities, in which all members can participate in decision making without discrimination, until the product reaches the market where there is demand.

Demand such as that which exists in the United Kingdom, where the sale of these products increased by 12% from 2010 to 2011, generating a total of £1, 319,300 destined for fair trade that year.

Negative effects

According to the current food system, more than 60% of the profits generated by coffee production are kept by six multinationals: Kraft, Suchard, Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, Sara Lee and Tchibo, while small producers are living between hunger and extreme poverty.

Luces y sombras 8And although the fair trade movement was born with an honest objective and aimed to avoid big companies controlling the market, it remains difficult since some of these companies are accused of wanting to take over the initiative to improve their image.

In fact, some alternative organizations denounce the Fairtrade Labelling Organization certification, claiming it only serves the interests of the large multinationals, which use the seal on their products as part of their marketing strategy.

Similarly, the fair trade doesn’t always bring benefits. It also presents some possible disadvantages since it focuses on the marketing of products abroad, and the fact that perhaps the producer doesn’t always guarantee correct nutrition is ever present.

Consumer culture 8While it may seem obvious, it is not. Selling fair trade food does not guarantee farmers the consumption of quality products, since they export them.

Consequently in regions where the best food is produced, the local diet is poor. In addition, requirements of these farmers for pest control and the reduction of size of land represent additional costs that sometimes are not covered by the benefits of belonging to a community of fair trade.

On the other hand, the critical perspectives highlight that one cannot exert a certain criteria of social justice in the communities of origin and not do the same with large areas in which they are sold.

comer en medio1Supermarkets have seen a new business concept in the marketing of fair trade products, with the excuse that it reaches more people and there will be more profits for the farmers.

In the same way multinational companies such as McDonald’s, Starbucks and Nestlé, which in 2005 in the United Kingdom launched its fair trade coffee: NESCAFÉ Partner’s Blend, got the seal of the FLO, despite being accused of systematically violating environmental and human rights.

Therefore, one must not forget that although fair trade is presented as a good alternative, it is not apart from the capitalist threats that it is seeking to avoid.


(Translated by David Coldwell:


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