The Fairtrade movement that puts people before profit

The Fairtrade movement has helped countless producers like this Kenyan tea farmer (credit Simon Rawles).The Fairtrade movement has helped countless producers like this Kenyan tea farmer (credit Simon Rawles).
The Fairtrade movement has helped countless producers like this Kenyan tea farmer (credit Simon Rawles).
With today marking the start of Fairtrade Fortnight, Chris Bond looks back at this ethical movement and the impact it has had over the past 20 years.

WE’VE all seen it in a supermarket or a shop on the high street. That small green, blue and black trademark that looks a bit like a Pac-man from the 1980s computer game.

I’m talking about the Fairtrade logo which has become an increasingly familiar sight during the past 20 years.

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The days when you had to go off the beaten track to a shop smelling of hemp in order to buy a bar of ethical chocolate have long gone, and today, Fairtrade is seen as a great success story having helped countless marginalised producers around the world get a fair price for their goods.

And whereas it used to be synonymous with chocolate and bananas, now there are more than 4,500 Fairtrade products available to buy in this country ranging from flowers and wine, to ice cream and clothing.

Since 1995, when the first Fairtrade Fortnight was held, the Fairtrade mark has become globally recognisable and today marks the start of the latest Fairtrade Fortnight with the spotlight once again being shone on farmers and producers trying to eke out a sustainable living.

The basic idea behind Fairtrade is that the producer receives a guaranteed and fair price for their product regardless of the price on the world market. This covers their production costs and means that farmers earn enough to look after their families properly and plan for the future.

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However, there are concerns that the whole ethos is increasingly coming up against supermarket price wars where small farmers and plantation workers become “collateral damage”.

Despite these fears many people have embraced the Fairtrade ideal and there is an ever-growing appetite for ethical labels, with sales of Fairtrade products in the UK rising by 14 per cent to £1.78bn in 2013.

It has proved particularly successful in Yorkshire which became the UK’s first Fairtrade Region two years ago. There are now 39 cities, towns and villages in Yorkshire that have Fairtrade campaigns, not to mention all the schools, universities and faith groups involved.

Yorkshire, of course, has a long and proud association with the struggle for workers’ rights, from the old West Riding textile mills, to the anti-slavery campaigning of William Wilberforce.

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It’s something that can be seen today in the plethora of Fairtrade shops, events, workshops and online forums set up all over the county.

Roger Robson manages The Beehive, a small business in Chapel Allerton, Leeds, that sells Fairtrade products. The shop, which has been going for 15 years, is run by volunteers like Roger and has a loyal band of customers
who believe in what they are trying to do.

“The producers are getting a fairer share than they would normally get and consequently it costs slightly more than if you bought the same product in a supermarket,” he says.

But people are prepared to pay a little bit extra. “We have regulars who come in to buy their tea, coffee and biscuits. We’ve actually bucked the trend and had a 15 per cent increase in sales last year, which is better than the big supermarkets,” he says.

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“The kind of money we’re talking about is peanuts compared to the big organisations but there are lots of little groups like us selling small amounts of things up and down the country, which is how it all keeps going.”

And he believes it is making a difference. “Some people think it’s a fad and that it’s had its day, but I don’t believe it has. The idea is that people in poorer countries can trade their way out of poverty and it’s been shown that this does work, and that it’s still worthwhile.”

Fairtrade Fortnight runs until March 8. For more information about what is happening in Yorkshire go to

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