Fair trade for a fairer world?

By Emma Brooks

From February 22 to March 7 it’s Fairtrade Fortnight in the UK. This movement (or concept) has existed since the 80s and the FAIRTRADE label was launched in 2002.  You now see a wide variety of products on the shelves supporting the label and most people you ask will be able to tell you what Fairtrade is. The debate arises when we ask how much trust we can put in the FAIRTRADE label when companies that are frequently highlighted for their bad behaviour apply it to their products.

It’s important to remember that a label only testifies to one product. If Kit Kats are going to be bearing the FAIRTRADE label, this does not mean that all of Nestlé’s products are now Fairtrade,  or that the company is complying with all the rules and charging fair prices for  all its products. If you look at the standards set by the Fairtrade Labeling Organization (FLO), the objectives seem honest, good and a major landmark for leading brands to strive for.

What we should focus on when brands like Nestlé have a product certified FAIRTRADE is not what they are failing to do and how certifying one small product seems hypocritical. On the contrary, it should be resognized as a step forward so as to encourage companies to continue extending the label to more products. The more recognition a company sees for its efforts, the more likely it is to continue increasing them. One mustn’t forget that undergoing certification (even for one product) is an effort that requires time and investment.

Of course, just because Kit Kats are now FAIRTRADE doesn’t make Nestlé a commendable company all round. It is too easy for companies to divert attention from their bad practices with one successfull marketing campaign but making that first step is important. Leading market brands will set the trend and encourage others to sign-up to the Fairtrade movement.

Fairtrade is successful in the round, and it is by initiatives such as these that we can raise awareness and try to make a difference little by little. Consumers must be able to trust their favourite brands and feel good about the products they buy. They must also be able to feel that their choices are making a difference.  If consumers boycotted Nestlé despite its FAIRTRADE Kit Kats, it wouldn’t want to continue certification. FAIRTRADE labeling will see a drop in its exposure and in turn the practice of Fairtrade where it is most needed could be lost.

We can always ask ourselves whether or not it’s really worth it and whether we’re making a difference. I think the important thing is to go beyond that and try and see the bigger picture, before pointing the finger at brands that are trying to make an effort.

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