In a survey conducted by MORI (Market Opinion Research International) it was found that half of the British public recognized the Fairtrade mark, which is used across a wide range of foods and non food products. But what does it really mean? I felt it would be interesting to look into Fairtrade a little more closely and find out how it benefits third world countries.
For the purpose of this article I shall be considering Fairtrade in relation to the cotton industry. The Fairtrade Foundation considers that small scale farmers are at the receiving end of exploitation and injustice in international trade. Its aim is threefold firstly to assist disadvantaged producers in the third world to improve their social and economic position by improved access to world markets, information and terms of trade. Additionally to raise awareness among consumers so that they are enabled to make informed purchasing choices. Fairtrade certification of cotton brings a whole new product category to the consumer. Over the past ten years consumer interest and support for Fairtrade has been growing steadily around the world. Lastly but not least companies are influenced to develop better trading relationships with suppliers in the south and increase the range and availability of products. The Fairtrade mark is an independent consumer label that appears on products to guarantee that these aims have been adhered to. Furthermore the Fairtrade system uniquely registers all traders along the supply chain to ensure transparency in the sourcing of products bearing the mark. Association with Fairtrade and the benefits this brings is already making a difference to the lives of certified cotton farmers. In Mali the local cooperative has used the Fairtrade premium to realise sustainable community projects including provision of wells, building a school and setting up a health centre and school nursery.
Fairtrade certification of cotton complements initiatives and campaigns which attempt to address the problems associated with garment and textile production and respect for the environment with the growing of organic cotton which is why you will often see Organic and Fairtrade labels go hand in hand. Campaigners include; Labour behind the label, Oxfam, Ethical trading initiatives, Pesticides action network (PAN) and the International trade union movement. These and other pressure groups help to raise public and corporate awareness of the complicated issues related to workers rights and working conditions. In consequence there are various projects which have been developed around the world to try to facilitate fair supply chains.
Whilst super models and fashion executives enjoy salaries in excess of seven figures garment workers across the world are caught in a poverty trap. Labour behind the label found that even allowing for the lower cost of living in developing countries most workers earn about half what they need to live on. Workers producing the clothes found on the British high street can be earning as little as 22p per hour in Mauritius, £1.13 per day in India. Research has shown that major retailers in general have not made serious inroads into this problem. However they all say that they are committed to a living wage but it does not appear to be a matter of priority. . Fairtrade certification focuses primarily on problems faced by producers of agricultural commodities in developing countries but as previously mentioned also acknowledges that there are many other vulnerable workers along the supply chain who could possibly benefit from Fairtrade. Currently Fairtrade labeling organisations (FLO) and its members are exploring the development of a standard which would continue the advantages of Fairtrade further along the chain to those involved in cotton garment and textile manufacturing.