Who does it help?
Two types of generic producer standards exist; one for small farmers and one for worker/employees on plantations and in factories. The former refers to smallholders organised into co-operatives or other organisations with a democratic, participative framework or structure. The latter concerns organised workers/employees and the related labour issues of fair pay, right to union membership, health and safety concerns, work related grievance procedures, terms of work and the advocacy of non-child labour etc.
The Fair Trade movement is intimately connected to development. Fair trade encourages producer organisations to continuously ameliorate working conditions and produce quality merchandise whilst also creating and facilitating environmental stability by way of environmentally friendly agricultural methods and to invest in the development of their organisations and welfare of their producers and workers.
When and by whom did it originate?
In 1989, the Netherlands became the first country to establish a Fair trade consumer label. The first Irish product to bear the FAIRTRADE Mark, ‘Bewley’s Direct Coffee’, was launched in 1996. In 1998 the Fair trade Mark Ireland as well as Fair trade organisations from 16 other countries (mainly throughout Europe and North America) established Fair trade Labelling Organizations International (FLO). FLO is the umbrella entity for all 20 national initiatives. It provides global international cooperation and common Fair trade standards. In 2001, FLO and its affiliate organisations adopted a new common FAIRTRADE Mark to replace the seven labels that were previously in usage.
How does it work?
Trading standards or Fairtrade certification is a product certification system that was designed to allow people to identify products that meet agreed standards in areas such as the environment, employment and development. This certification system is overseen by a standard-setting body, ‘FLO International’ and a certification body, ‘FLO-CERT’. The system ensures the maintenance of aforementioned standards by insisting on independent auditing of producers commitments to same. Those companies that do provide products that meet the Fairtrade standards may apply for licences and consequently are permitted to use the Fairtrade Certification Mark for such products.
The licensing system that operates stipulates that traders must pay a price to producers that will in turn fund the costs of sustainable production. The premium that is paid allows the producers to invest in development and to sign contracts that cater and allow for long-term planning and sustainable production practices.
What kind of impact does it hope to achieve?
For many years small producers from the developing nations were unable to sustain a livelihood let alone prosper from their labours. With the advent of fair trade, as opposed to the acknowledged unworkable concept of free trade, (e.g. a concept maligned by many influential commentators such as Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz) a new equality was nascent and with it a new global vision of equity and justice. Although, exploitation of indigent workers and indigenous producers persists, the concept and movement of fair trade acts as an alternative to the highly subsidised products which originate in the West or at least offer an informed choice to a more educated and discerning consumer to invoke an individualised conscience based on the ideals of fairness, transparency and social justice.