Life isn’t fair. We all work that out by the time we are six or seven years old. Some people get all the luck and accolades; others work hard and never get rewarded. Whether you believe in science, religion or fate as your guiding principle, sometimes it is just the way the dice rolls or the cookie crumbles that determines certain details of our lives. No wonder many of us end up a little cynical.
Expecting life to be unfair, however, lets us fall into the steely grip of a capitalist mind-set. We forget to care about people and instead allow markets to rule. If that means that a tea farmer in Malawi is paid only a tiny fraction of the price his tea sells at back in the UK, then that’s just the way it goes. If that means he can’t afford education or medical care for his children, we may feel it is sad, but not our problem or something we can fix.
However, the Fairtrade Foundation doesn’t agree. They believe (and have twenty years of experience and many case studies to back them up) that giving a producer a reasonable and guaranteed price for their product is the right thing to do. This needs to be regardless of the many vagaries of the world market – its fluctuations can throw a community reliant on one export item into financial despair.
The Fairtrade Foundation has shown that a fair price leads to genuine improvements in quality of life for families and better long term opportunities for their children.
The cost increase on Fairtrade items for us is small change, often just a penny or so, and most of us could manage to pay a tiny bit more for a handful of items in our shopping trolley. Despite this, the Fairtrade Foundation reports that just 1.2% of cocoa and less than 10% of tea globally is traded on Fairtrade terms.
The next couple of weeks is Fairtrade Fortnight, running from 23rd February to 8th March and it’s a good opportunity to discover Fairtrade products. Look out for bananas, sugar, cocoa, tea, coffee, chocolate and cotton labelled with the Fairtrade logo. Often, they are of higher quality because they are at the premium end of the market and it is reassuring to know that the profit is not all going into the pockets of a supermarket fat cat.
And while we are thinking about what is fair… what about the power that supermarkets wield over our nation’s farmers too? The immense squeeze placed on the price of milk is the latest evidence of this. It’s a while since I was six years old, but I have the strong urge to stamp my foot and shout at the top of my voice, “It’s not fair!” Anyone going to join me?
First published in the EDP and EADT