About Fair Trade
Sometimes the people looking around our fair trade gift shop in Hull ask what the term “fair trade” means. Well there is a lot to say about fair trade, but I have to be honest with myself and acknowledge that most people don’t want to hang around for a couple hours listening to me prattling on about it. For that reason, I usually start with a very short and sweet answer – that it’s the opposite of a sweat shop. For some people that’s enough of an explanation and they’ll continue browsing as before but now with a smile on their faces as they feel good about their imminent purchase. Other people, however, do want to know more.
Fair trade is most frequently associated with the workers receiving fair pay for their work. A little less known, perhaps, is the support fair trade gives to communities, the empowerment it offers vulnerable people and those who are at a high risk of extreme poverty. Even less well known seems to be the commitment of everyone who works with and in fair trade to the protection of the environment.
The 10 Principles of Fair Trade
The World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) sets out the following 10 Principles of Fair Trade:
- Opportunities for disadvantaged producers
- Transparency and accountability
- Fair trade practices
- Fair payment
- Ensuring no child labour and no forced labour
- Commitment to non discrimination, gender equity and women’s economic empowerment, and freedom of association
- Ensuring good working conditions
- Providing capacity building
- Promoting fair trade
- Respect for the environment
Detailed explanations about these principles are available on the WFTO website, so rather than just copying and pasting it here I will instead attempt to explain how we at Near & Fair address each one.
1. Opportunities for disadvantaged producers
We purchase items for our shop from suppliers who express as part of their ethical policy that they ensure a good wage is paid to the workers, and that those workers also enjoy good benefits and working conditions. We have found our suppliers to be very open about talking of the difficulties faced by the communities of their producers. Many of our suppliers began their fair trade journeys by travelling and witnessing those difficulties and they felt an overwhelming desire to help. Before the term “fair trade” was adopted, the ethos was “trade, not aid”. It was shown that fairly trading with disadvantaged people and establishing a working relationship with them was of far more benefit than simply sending them aid.
2. Transparency and accountability
Being a member of the British Association for Fair Trade Shops and Suppliers (BAFTS) we have to send in a renewal application each year showing where we buy our stock. In order to maintain our full membership of BAFTS we must be able to show that a minimum of 60% of our stock comes from wholesalers who are either BAFTS or WFTO members, or who are members of WFTO network members in the global south, or that the products we buy carry the FLO mark, Fair for Life mark or Good Weave mark. In our most recent renewal at time of writing we were proud to report that over 70% of our stock came from such wholesalers. Of the remainder, some came from wholesalers that we chose for their impressive ethical policies, and some items, such as our seed cards for example, are not applicable for fair trade certification due to being made right here in the UK.
3. Fair trade practices
We never haggle or ask for discounts from our suppliers (but if they offer us a discount we will accept as this helps us keep our own prices low). Our preferred payment method is on a pro-forma basis as we believe it is good business to pay bills promptly. We think businesses, including suppliers and producers, benefit from receiving payment immediately. Paying as we order helps avoid any financial difficulties for our suppliers who we are confident also pay their bills promptly. Sometimes our suppliers will even make an upfront payment to their producers to help buy any materials or equipment needed.
As I stated in last week’s blog post, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, many multi-national companies with rich shareholders quickly cancelled orders, leaving garment makers with nothing, and many were out of pocket. In high contrast, the caring people who import fair trade garments honoured their agreements, ensured orders were paid for, and they even helped finance adjustments required to allow work to be carried out safely. In order to do this, fair trade wholesalers need retailers like ourselves to continue ordering. We are pleased to say that we have never yet had to cancel any order, even during the pandemic and its lockdowns. That is largely thanks to our own customers continuing with their support both in the bricks and mortar shop when we are allowed to open, and online when we are forced to close. Thank you for this support ♥.
4. Fair payment
We choose suppliers who state in their ethical policy that they pay a good price to their producers. We are a 2-person business partnership and as yet do not have any staff to pay. Hopefully, at some point in the future we will take someone on to help us out in the shop. We will only do this if we are confident we can pay them a real living wage.
5. Ensuring no child labour and no forced labour
As parents ourselves, the idea of small children working in dangerous factories fills us with horror. We therefore choose suppliers who specifically state that they buy from producers who do not use exploitative child labour.
6. Commitment to non discrimination, gender equity and women’s economic empowerment, and freedom of association
We buy from suppliers who we believe do not use discriminatory practices. After visiting producers, our suppliers bring back some beautiful photos of happy, smiling workers. We have some of those pictures in our shop. We never discriminate against our customers or visitors, and when we find ourselves in a position to take on employees we will employ the best person for the job, regardless of race, caste, national origin, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation, union membership, political affiliation, HIV/AIDS status or age. We are not afraid to stand up for our own rights, and we will always stand with those who are battling to have their rights respected.
7. Ensuring good working conditions
We purchase from suppliers who state they are committed to improving or maintaining good health and safety conditions for their producers. In our own shop we have no employees and so carry out all of the necessary tasks ourselves. Our retail unit is in a recently-refurbished purpose-built building owned by our local council and therefore all health and safety regulations have been met and are adhered to. In addition, we purchase any equipment necessary to make our working environment safer, often based on a personal level rather than basics of the law. For example, I have some health problems that sometimes makes me feel unsafe using step ladders, so we bought a sturdy kick stool and a long pole/hook for hanging and removal of stock displayed high up. I love my job, but I won’t sacrifice my health for it! We think we have also finally found a chair for behind the counter that we both find comfortable! Once the current lockdown is over we will put it to the test.
8. Providing capacity building
Buying fairly traded goods allows us to assist our wholesalers to develop their own capacity to support the marginalised producer groups that they work with.
Closer to home, we attend local fair trade events and meetings in order to educate ourselves on the latest news/developments/ideas.
9. Promoting fair trade
We attend local fair trade events when we can and participate in Fairtrade Fortnight at the end of February/beginning of March each year. We enjoy giving information about our suppliers and producers to curious customers and have information and pictures on our walls to support what we are saying. Our customers particularly like to see the pictures of people who actually make the products they are buying from us.
10. Respect for the environment
Of course, buying fair trade products which have been produced with respect for the environment is in itself a helpful way to be eco friendly, but at Near & Fair we love finding more opportunities to play our part and reduce our carbon footprint.
We are very interested in protecting the environment and give preference to suppliers who are nearest to us to ensure less haulage. We use paper bags and paper or compostable carrier bags for our customers in the shop, and usually use compostable postal bags or cardboard boxes for posting to our customers outside of our local area. We reuse any bubble-wrap that we received with our purchases. As we sometimes receive more bubble-wrap than we can use, we pass our excess on to any neighbours who can make use of it. When packing peanuts are received with our deliveries, these are always biodegradable. We re-use and/or share what we can, and put the excess on our compost heap down at our allotment. We often receive shredded paper in our deliveries, and this too is added to our compost heap, whereas scrunched up paper sheets are smoothed out and reused. Small cardboard boxes are reused by ourselves or offered to our neighbours for re-use. Large cardboard boxes are taken to our allotment and used as a weed-suppressing base in our no-dig beds.
As you can see, fair trade is about more than just money, and we attempt to play our part in each and every aspect of it. If you can think of any other way we can help care for people and our planet, do let us know!
Last week was January’s Product of the Month and I wrote about our gorgeous Black Yak jumpers. You can catch up here.
Next week will be Fragrance of the Month. It will be incense, but which of our gorgeous fragrances it will be I haven’t decided yet. There are just so many to choose from!
Take care of yourselves and each other.
Photo details and credits (in order of appearance)
Fairtrade logo. WFTO logo. Disadvantaged community in Nepal following an earthquake, photo courtesy of Black Yak. BAFTS logo. Fair trade mask, photo courtesy of Shared Earth. Martha Magento, a coffee farmer who harvests coffee beans for Traidcraft, photo courtesy of Traidcraft. A happy worker making great products for Ancient Wisdom. A collage of posters and leaflets posted during Fairtrade Fortnight 2020. Our family allotment where we use cardboard to supress the weeds and dump home-made compost on top. The compost is made using shredded paper packaging and packing peanuts (amongst a lot of other things). We are then able to plant directly into the compost with absolutely no digging required. You can find out more about no dig gardening here.
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