Company logo
Rated "Excellent" by our customers

Search articles

Search tips...

Rated excellent by our customers

Fair's fair Your guide to Fairtrade


What is Fairtrade?

In essence, Fairtrade is a simple purchasing agreement which means producers, workers and farmers in the developing world receive a fair wage for their products. Businesses in developed countries pay producers and farmers in developing countries a fair price for their produce, and often in addition, a premium on top to go towards community projects. Fairtrade certification can also be granted to large scale plantations and co-operatives and in turn they agree to pay their workers a fair wage so that production is sustainable for the local community and the country of origin progresses.

By making sure companies pay fairly, Fairtrade rebalances the injustice conventional trading which tends to pay the lowest possible price for products, even at the expense of the producer’s livelihood. Fair prices allows workers to have control over their lives and in that sense, every Fairtrade product bought is slowly improving living standards across the developing world. When you hear that your purchasing power to make Fairtrade swaps can help change the world, it’s not an exaggeration.

When did Fairtrade start?

The roots of goods being traded fairly are widely spread - there are examples of women in America buying needlework from craftswomen in Puerto Rico back in the 1940s, Oxfam shops in the UK began selling crafts made by Chinese refugees in the 1950s and there are numerous examples of post-war efforts by the church communities to help re-establish communities in Europe.

The official  Fairtrade Foundation was launched in 1992 by a number of organisations including CAFOD, Christian Aid, Oxfam, Traidcraft, Global Justice Now, and the National Federation of Women’s Institutes.

The Fairtrade Foundation is now the recognised certification body of Fairtrade goods in the UK and they are the organisation behind Fairtrade Fortnight, an annual two-week awareness campaign around Fairtrade that runs each February. The 2019 theme is called and focuses on female cocoa farmers in West Africa.

How does Fairtrade work?

Generally speaking when it comes to coffee, cocoa, cotton and rice, only small-scale farmers are certified as Fairtrade. However, for items such as bananas, tea and flowers, Fairtrade will also certify the plantations where these goods are produced. Workers’ rights at these large-scale businesses are fundamental.

To become Fairtrade certified a product must have met certain criteria in its production. The producers of the product are paid a price for the product which is generally higher than the market average. But crucially, they are paid this premium on the understanding that they will pass this on to their workers and provide safe working conditions for them, or in the case of smallholder farms, use the premiums to contribute to community focused projects - clean water wells and village schools for example.

Is Fairtrade fair?

Absolutely. Paying a fair price for a product should be standard but it doesn’t always happen. Giving workers a fair wage so they can sustain their livelihoods is crucial if developing countries are to grow and thrive. It is not every day that you can make global changes simply by making a purchase. But when it comes to Fairtrade, you really can make a difference to someone on another continent.

It is worth bearing in mind that the Fairtrade certification does not come for free and that you do have to pay for the right to display the Fairtrade logo. This cost partly funds regular audits to ensure Fairtrade standards are being met year on year. The fee system currently operates as a registration fee and then an annual profit percentage.

What Fairtrade products can I buy?

There are now over 4,500 Fairtrade certified products for sale in the UK and the range of products you can buy is vast. The overriding message is to start to swap some of your everyday items for Fairtrade equivalents and now that there’s so much choice, it’s easier than ever to do.

There are the classic Fairtrade items such as coffee, tea, cocoa and of course, bananas, but less well-known Fairtrade items such as coconut flour, peanut butter and even rubber gloves are available as well. Those addicted to their morning cup of coffee to help them through the day could swap to Fairtrade Columbian coffee beans for example. Or if fancy trying something a bit different in the coffee stakes then Grumpy Mule Organic Yirgacheffe Ethiopia Ground Coffee  is a great one to pop in your basket, it’s a tea-like coffee that is best drunk without milk.  Any claims of Fairtrade being expensive are quashed by these Rubber Gloves, they are Fairtrade, immeasurably stylish and only £1.40.

You can get Fairtrade wine, flowers and cola as well.  Fairtrade fans rave about Ubuntu Cola which packs a fizzy sweet punch with Fairtrade sugar from Malawi and Zambia. When you’re taking a nice bottle of wine along to a dinner party then Running Duck South African Merlot is an easy-drinking, rounded red that is bound to impress.

Make a change to Fairtrade in the bathroom and you’ll find Dr Bronner’s is the brand for you - there’s everything from shave gels to soaps, baby creams to hand wash and most of their range if Fairtrade.

If you’re going to start with one Fairtrade change then we would recommend chocolate - there’s so much variety nowadays and who can resist a nibble of chocolate? Try Loving Earth Salted Caramel raw chocolate or a Vego Whole Hazelnut bar. Both will have you converted to Fairtrade with the first bite. If milk chocolate floats your boat then remember that Maltesers™ are Fairtrade as well.

Try making a swap or two in your normal shop to Fairtrade and you will be helping to quite literally change the world.

Where does Fairtrade tea come from?

Everyone loves a cuppa - in fact over 70,000 cups are drunk every second. The tea leaves used in our brew come from Kenya, India, Sri Lanka and Uganda primarily and grown on both small-scale farms and large plantations.

In the UK we drink more tea than most, but this most-cherished commodity fluctuates when it comes to the prices for those little green leaves. Broadly speaking this is because over 70% of the world’s tea is bought through auctions and these auctions can be manipulated to drive down the cost per kilo. Large companies have the buying power to influence demand and this in turn affects the price the tea can reach. Small-scale growers are most vulnerable in this chain and often the pressure to cut tea prices can push them further into poverty.

So even though our love of a cuppa never changes, the price farmers can get for their product does. And don’t forget that they already receive a tiny fraction of what we then pay for it, which makes very little sense if you think about it. There’s been movement towards banning these auctions and moving towards a fairer system, but this has not yet been successful.

With Fairtrade tea, it is a different story. The foundation works with workers on large tea plantations and small-scale farmers in a three-pronged approach: firstly, they pay them a fair price for their tea so that they don’t have to rely on the unsteady auction prices; secondly, they work with farmers and teach them ways to secure more control at the supply level; and thirdly, they set standards that all growers and plantations have to adhere to when it comes to employment conditions and workers’ rights.

In addition to this fair price, farmers and Fairtrade plantations are given an additional $.50/kg of made tea which must be used to fund community and economic investment.

Where does Fairtrade coffee come from?

Coffee beans are grown across the world but 60 per cent of the world’s coffee is produced in Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia and Indonesia.

Once the beans leave the farms they often change hands any number of times before they actually make it into your bags of coffee beans or grounds. Like tea, the price per kg can vary massively depending on demand. Indeed, between 1994-2004 there was a coffee crisis and producers received only 1-3 per cent of the price of your cafe coffee and 2-6 per cent of supermarket coffee, when you bear in mind that in the 1970s they were receiving nearer 20 per cent, it is clear that these producers couldn’t maintain any sort of living in these conditions.

For some time this was addressed through the International Coffee Agreement (ICA), but when this collapsed in the 1980s it led to the first ever Fairtrade label, Max Havelaar. Although the ICA has been re-founded, Fairtrade goes further. If a co-operative is certified Fairtrade then they are main the Fairtrade Minimum price, plus 20 per cent extra to invest in their communities and improving the quality of their product.

Where does Fairtrade cocoa come from?

40 per cent of the world’s coffee in produced in Côte d’Ivoire, with other African, Asian and American countries following this. Cocoa trees only grow in the tropics close to the equator where it is hot but rainy.

Cocoa is currently on the up and the prices paid for the cocoa beans are high thanks to our love of chocolate. There is a limited supply though as cocoa trees are easily damaged and the hard nature of cocoa farming means makes it unattractive to many farmers. The average age of a cocoa farmer is 50 and very few young people are coming into the trade.

Sustainability is at the heart of Fairtrade cocoa. Cocoa producers are paid a premium above and beyond the Fairtrade price which enables them to assist local communities, develop schools, wells and generally improve living conditions. They are also assisted in finding ways to keep their precious trees from being damaged or contracting disease. Another essential arm of the Fairtrade initiative is business training for farmers so that they can negotiate contracts and improve their business acumen.

If you're interested in buying more Fairtrade products, please take a look at our Fairtrade shop

For more information on Fairtrade, please visit our Fairtrade page