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What is Fair Trade and What Kind of Products are Available?

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by Lindsay Law (subscribe)
I'm a working mum writing about life in Edinburgh (and anywhere else we go) with two curious, adventurous, and imaginative children. Visit my blog at Follow me on Twitter: @LinzerLaw
Published November 22nd 2012
If you're worried about the amount you consume, and the impact it has on the people involved in the supply chain, then you'll be interested in the concept of Fair Trade goods. Most people are aware of Fair Trade coffee, bananas, and cotton, but there are lots more products available.

You might not know the variety of Fair Trade products you can buy, and that's why I have created this article. I have been an advocate since I first discovered Green & Black's Maya Gold chocolate. It is my favourite chocolate ever, but it also led me to find out more about Fair Trade.

Fair Trade
A selection of Fair Trade products. Source: Fair Trade Foundation

What is Fair Trade?
The Fairtrade Foundation was founded in 1992 to provide UK products with a Fair Trade certification. The Foundation's vision was of a world where everyone, through their work, can maintain a decent and dignified livelihood and develop their full potential.

To achieve that vision, Fair Trade transforms trading structures and practices in favour of the poor and disadvantaged, contributing to sustainable development for marginalised producers, workers and their communities. Fair Trade offers an alternative to conventional trade and it empowers citizens to campaign for an international trade system based on justice and fairness.

Since the founding of the Fair Trade label it has grown from its origins in the UK. It is now a trusted symbol recognised all over the world by consumes who want to be sure that the people making the products have been treated fairly and sustainably.

Fair Trade Products:
There's an ever-growing variety of Fair Trade products available. Some are very well-known and are readily available in your local supermarket.

The Fair Trade website has a full list, but here are some ideas for what you could easily swap into your weekly shop:

Fresh Fruits (including bananas, lemons, oranges, and mangoes)
Chocolate and Cocoa
Dried Fruit (including apricots, raisins, sultanas, apples)
Cereal Bars]

If you have children, why not start out by buying their cotton t-shirts for school in Fair Trade cotton? The best place to get these in the UK is Marks and Spencers, who are building up a range of Fair Trade cotton clothes.

Is it still ethical to buy Fair Trade from a supermarket?

The good thing about the supermarkets is that you can access the economy options, but they also have very wide ranges of Fair Trade produce that you can swap in and out of your basket as budget and requirement allows.

Fair Trade
A basket full of Fair Trade produce. Source: Fair Trade Foundation

However, you might feel that simply stocking Fair Trade doesn't offset the big chains' other questionable practices. Things like: the treatment of small dairy farmers in the UK who cannot be covered by Fair Trade, or by the fact that only they sell a range of t-shirts with the Fair Trade logo, and all of the rest of their clothes might be made in factories with very poor conditions for workers.

Despite these concerns supermarkets are still the place that most people shop. The reality is that most people don't have the luxury of time to do more bespoke shopping. A weekly supermarket trip with all of the convenience and economy options they offer is essential for many families.

In the UK, the Co-operative ranks most highly out of all of the supermarkets for own brand Fair Trade products. They are committed to increasing their range, and as they are owned by members rather being a public company, they are more directly accountable to their shoppers.

If you don't feel comfortable with supermarkets then there are plenty of smaller shops that you can use, which might represent an option that rests more easily on your conscience.

Personally, I started small by always ensuring I buy tea, coffee, sugar and bananas that are Fair Trade, but I'm trying to increase that until I buy Fair Trade whenever the option is available.

If you want to go one step further, there are lots of churches, schools, and even towns who have received Fair Trade certification. You can find out more from the Fair Trade towns organisation.

Do you buy Fair Trade? Would you consider making a Fair Trade pledge this New Year to swap at least one of the items you usually buy for a Fair Trade one?
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