Not that long ago, a small handful of products carried a sign which marked them out as Fairtrade. There weren’t many of them, they were hard to find, and even if you did manage to find them it was more than likely wouldn’t know what Fairtrade meant.
How things have changed in a short space of time. Word has spread about the Fairtrade mark and now an estimated 4,500 items in the UK carry it – but what is the history of the Fairtrade mark, and what effect has its spread had?
Established in 1992 by organisations including CAFOD, Oxfam and Traidcraft, the Fairtrade Foundation is a labelling initiative which approves products to carry a special mark, allowing them to be classed as ethically-sourced goods.
Any company that wants to attach a Fairtrade label to one of its products must meet a set of internationally recognised standards, decided on by a group made up of the four international fair trade networks.
The idea behind fair trade is a simple one – to guarantee a fair deal for everyone involved in the supply chain, right down to the lowest paid worker and their community. Fair trade is about being honest and ethical and not taking advantage of people, especially those in third world countries who are the most open to exploitation.
But the idea behind fair trade does not just mean better wages for normally disadvantaged workers in developing countries, it is about improving people’s lives through ethical trade. The Fairtrade Foundation aims to build trading relationships based on trust and transparency, justice and fairness. Fair trade is about improving working conditions, banishing exploitation and reducing the effect the production of certain goods has on the environment.
Major UK-based brands now have products which adhere to Fairtrade standards, such as Nestle’s Fairtrade KitKats, a company which for a long time has faced international criticism over its business practices. As demand for ethical goods increases, along with pressure from consumers, the shelves will continue to fill. As the word spreads about fair trade clothing, so the range available will increase.