Fairtrade – fact or fiction?

 

The UK is the biggest current market for fair-trade products, from coffee to cotton and over the last few decades has become increasingly popular with nearly 5000 products now carrying the label.

But as an ethical consumer it is important not only to consider your purchases, but also to research the criteria and processes involved in certifications such as these.

Fair-trade is a brilliant concept, for the grower, a good minimum price, as well as additional financial supplements for community development projects such as health clinics and schools. For the consumer, the opportunity to contribute to a better standard of living for the growers and their communities. A great concept undoubtedly, but does it work in practice?

One of my ilks with fair-trade is that each grower must join a cooperative which must then complete a series of forms and jump through a series of bureaucratic ‘hoops’, before they can achieve the certification that guarantees said fair price. There are also costs involved in certification of schemes such as fair-trade, rainforest alliance etc.
Fair trade is usually aimed at producers in the developing world who’s living and working conditions are traditionally poorer than those in the developed world (or at least that is what their marketing strategy would have you believe). Herein lies the problem, if fair-trade is aimed at the disadvantaged and the less educated, is it realistic to expect them to have the skills necessary to put together a successful cooperative and complete the application is a manner satisfactory to achieve certification?

Please do not think I am being patronising to growers but I have enough trouble myself with bureaucratic processes, form filling etc. I once tried to apply for a new passport and driving license simultaneously and it was not much fun. More guidance should be provided to help individuals and cooperatives achieve certification.

Fair-trade sceptics also infer that fair-trade may not be as altruistic as it is marketed to be. Is it really for the benefit of producers, or is it just another marketing strategy to lure naïve, well-meaning consumers to pay more for products? It is a question worth asking.

Fair-trade products sold by large conglomerates and supermarkets still have the inherent problem of long and convoluted supply chains (as discussed in previous articles). Therefore it is vastly preferable for the consumer and the producer to reduce the number of links in the chain. Buying fair-trade products is a good start, but buying fair-trade products directly is much better. By cutting the supply chain, you can get much more information about the product and there is more money left over to go to the growers. The internet is a valuable resource for buying directly from producers, but buying locally from farmers markets is also great.

Critics also propose that the ‘fair minimum price’ for products does not adequately fluctuate with the open market price of the product which will do so, depending upon season, demand, supply etc. So when the free price is low, the fair-trade growers benefit, but when it is high, they would do better selling on the open market.

The extent of fair-trade certification benefit also depends upon the product. Products which have a history or corruption, or poor working conditions such as gold, will benefit for the certification more than say, coffee. Certified gold mines will attract a high level of ethical consumer driven demand as their product is ‘clean’, legitimate.

So whether fair-trade is fair or not is unclear, it is dependant upon circumstance, product, market price and other influencing factors. Choosing to buy products ethically and considering the people at the source is one of the core values of ethical consumerism. But information is critical, in some circumstances private certification schemes may be more appropriate. Either way, buying as directly as possible is always best.

Thanks for reading,

Lucy

Meat matters: Why you really do get what you pay for

cow

Most of us will have heard of the recent horse meat scandal, but what other dangers are lurking in our ‘value’ meat, and why should we spend more, when we can buy cheaply?

Well the obvious reason is animal welfare, intensive farming methods cause huge amounts of stress on the livestock animals involved due to cramped conditions, poor quality food and healthcare and the lack of stimulus or the ability to express natural behaviours.

If that does not move you, think of the environment and the people who suffer. Much of the cheap feed used in intensive farms is comprised of soy bean, this ‘green gold’ is farmed mostly in South & Central America and the industry has a history of poor humans rights, including ‘land-grabbing’ and detrimental health problems for the nearby indigenous peoples caused by the prolific use of harsh pesticides and herbicides.

Finally, a little closer to home, think of your health. Poor quality meat is usually produced using antibiotics prophylactically, to prevent disease which spreads quickly in the confined conditions. This is NOT how antibiotics are designed to be used and the viruses and bacteria they are supposed to guard against eventually become resistant, developing into the ‘superbugs’ that you may have heard of.

So, think before you buy, try to go local, go to farmers markets and butchers where you can find out about the sourcing of your meat. Free-range and organic meat is more expensive its true, but boy is it worth it. Trust me, your local Tesco employee will not have much idea about their stock ( nor will they care if my experience is anything to go by), but local farmers and butchers who are passionate about what they do will be happy to answer your questions and discuss their stock.

So go for it! Check the label and explore local shops and markets, you wont be sorry.

Thanks for reading,

Lucy

Is ethical consumerism burning a hole in your pocket?

Is it possible to be an ethical consumer AND save money?

I have been learning about ethical consumerism, supply chains and production, and some of my subsequent purchases seem to be getting more expensive. But the more I learn, and the more used to purchasing ethically I become, the worse I feel contemplating purchases that are -to my mind- unethical.

So, can we purchase ethically and save money? Well, some products are easier to save on than others. Clothing for example, I have always loved vintage and if you shop around you can get some amazingly well made pieces, in beautiful fabrics, at a fraction of the price of new, I recently bought a stunning tweed jacket for £30! On top of that your probably supporting a small business, but a word of warning be careful sourcing from vintage shops in London- many are seriously overpriced!

Whilst we are on the subject of second hand, why not try sourcing furniture from flea markets, second hand shops or freecycle? Individual pieces that you can pick up for practically nothing can give your home a lovely, eclectic feel.

So onto food, I love organic, great for you, great for the planet and definitely great for bees but honestly it is more expensive. I sadly cannot afford to shop exclusively organically so I try to box clever. I often choose to buy the cheaper items of my shop organically, so instead of buying organic blueberries I choose organic leeks. I also always try to buy organic dairy and meat as these farms exercise higher welfare standards and try to have a couple of vegetarian days per week. I can then afford to buy higher welfare meat and not bankrupt myself. Having a meat-free day or two per week also helps to cut your carbon foot print considerably, ruminating animals such as cattle produce huge quantities of methane (a damaging greenhouse gas) so decreasing your demand for meat helps the environment.

Another of my stalwart methods of saving money is making do and mending. Learning to sew has been invaluable and I always try to go for quality rather than quantity when buying products, so they last longer. If I can’t mend I will repurpose.

When birthdays roll around, why not make presents? Or if that is not your cup of tea, check out Etsy, you can pick up some beautiful presents which have been repurposed from found objects. I recently bought a necklace made from an illustration from a children’s book called ‘the boy and the badger’, I love it and not only was it recycled but I was helping local business and it was from the UK so low carbon footprint too! Buying local also supports small businesses and can save you a packet on p&p.

So, coming back to my original question, yes you can save money and be an ethical consumer, but even for the slightly more expensive items I would rather feel good about a purchase than save a few pounds and feel like I have sold my ethics short.

Thanks for reading,

Lucy

@lucylloydslater

The race to the bottom

So, times are hard at the moment right? Jobs are hard to find, everyone is trying to save money, but we still want to buy, we want it now and we want it cheap. But there’s more to a price than how much goes out of our pocket.

The other day, I asked someone where the fur trimmed gillet they were wearing came from. The response, North Weald Market, but when I asked where it was made and where the materials came from, she did not have a clue and frankly, looked at me like I was a bit odd.

This is exactly my point, many people think no further than the price. But what happens if you go down the supply chain? Where do our things come from, and how does the price affect all the other people along the chain? Cheap products are produced with cheap materials using cheap labour. The labour laws that producers are subject to in the UK and EU are certainly not worldwide. Child labour, lack of sufficient health and safety measures (resulting in injury, exposure to harmful substances and lowered life expectancy), insultingly low wages and terrible, long hours are rife in the developing world where much of the products sold in the developing world come from. Yes, these industries provide valuable trade and employment and an outright boycott is not the answer but making ourselves aware and campaigning for a better deal for these people is key.

Suppliers in the current market are constantly trying to undercut each other, to provide cheaper and cheaper products, no matter the cost to human rights and the environment, this has become known as ‘the race to the bottom’.

I’m passionate about ethical consumerism, consumer power is one of the greatest tools in the ordinary person’s arsenal. Industry is shaped by the consumer, supply and demand, so change the demand and the supply will follow suit.

Take food for example, every day I see adverts from Asda and Aldi purporting to be cheaper than Tesco, cheaper than Sainsbury’s, this all sounds wonderful, but has anyone stopped to ask why? Why are they so cheap? Well in my experience, as the price falls, so do the ethical standards. Cheaper food id often non-fairtrade, non-organic, poor quality and poor welfare. But most people only look at the price and in my experience, cheap and ethical are often, sadly, mutually exclusive.

I try to be an ethical consumer (see my below top tips), I’m not perfect but I try my best. I mainly shop at Sainsbury’s -with the odd trip to a farmers market- because they have a great organic range, do lot’s of MSC (Marine Stewardship Certified – a TRUE indicator of sustainable) fish and are not too horrendously expensive. I happened to be near Morrison’s the other day so I popped in, but could not find anything organic and when I asked at the fish counter they did not stock anything MSC (and neither do my local Tesco), so off I went to Sainsbury’s as usual.

I may not be able to afford going exclusively organic or have the time to research every single thing I buy, but I try to do my bit, especially for Christmas (watch this space). I would really encourage you to do a bit of research into what you are buying and maybe buy a little less and a little more ethically, your conscience with thank you as will those down the supply chain and you can be a part of shaping a better, fairer industry.

Lucy’s Top tips for ethical buying

1. Try to go organic and high welfare – not just food but cotton, bathing products and gifts

2. Buy sustainable, acronyms are your friend go for MSC for fish, FSC for wood and paper and buy recycled, repurposed and upcycled where you can, besides palate furniture is pretty chic

3. Buy products from charities such as gifts

4.Buy fair-trade to send a message to suppliers that consumers care about the welfare of others

5. Buy from local and small traders – help out the little guy and the chances are they have sources their products or materials more consciously

6. Make conscious decisions, think and research what you are buying

So even though times are hard and we may not always be afford ethical purchases, but if we are conscious in our decision making and all try to do our bit -especially at Christmas when consumerism is utterly rampant-  it will make a huge difference to the market and suppliers will sit up and pay attention.

Thanks for reading,

Lucy