How many of you, when you shop for coffee or bananas or chocolate look for the Fair Trade label? I must admit, I don’t. I look for my favorite brand of espresso.
I’m not alone. The ‘Kirchenbote’, newspaper of the Swiss reformed church, discussed the fair trade issue in its last issue, February 2010. They quote Ulrich Thielemann, business ethicist from St. Gallen University, Switzerland as saying that the power of the market is stronger than our good intentions.
Here in Schleitheim, a village of 1700 persons, the only grocery store – a small Co-op – carries several kinds of Fair Trade coffee under different brands. They only sell Max Haavelar bananas. Obviously some consumers have more than just good intentions.
Max Haavelar is a fair trade organization. On Wikipedia I read (google Max Haavelar foundation): “The label, used to distinguish Fairtrade products from conventional ones, aims to improve “the living and working conditions of small farmers and agricultural workers in disadvantaged regions.”
The same ‘Kirchenbote’ article went on to say that the Swiss farmer needed fair trade too, that one third of Swiss farmers struggle because they don’t receive fair prices for their products – prices that cover the cost of production and provide a decent living for the family.
I’m sure many Canadian farmers – just think of the beef or hog industry – feel they need more Fair Trade too.
Buying local produce, ‘made in Canada’ (or wherever you live) products, visiting farmers markets, and ‘the hundred mile diet’ are ways we can help improve living conditions for our local farmers. Really caring – taking action – requires more energy and yes, sometimes more money.
The more consumers demand fair trade by their purchasing decisions the more power they can exert over the market. Just think of the European consumer that has to date successfully fought the fight against Monsanto and GMO products, and hormone free beef. Whether I agree with them or not; my hat is off to them.
Every year when we come back here to Switzerland the assortment of various fair trade items is larger. That tells me the consumer is buying more. That more translates into more families enjoying a better standard of living.
The consumer ultimately votes. That includes me. I’ll look out for bananas and chocolate – but I’ve never seen a decaffeinated fair trade coffee.