After 20 years, it’s time Fairtrade came home

FAIRTRADE Fortnight 2015 runs from Monday 23rd February to Sunday 8th March, two weeks in which we will be encouraged to support the work of the UK’s leading ethical trade organisation to get a better deal for farmers in third world countries. It is the 20th anniversary of the campaign and most of us now know to look for the distinctive logo and to ask for a Fairtrade-sourced product if we know there should be one. Hooray for that.

Now it’s time we brought the Fairtrade message back home – to our own farmers and food producers who are being ripped off, bullied and forced to sell their products for less than the cost of production.

The message of the Fairtrade Foundation is simple, clear and compelling: “With Fairtrade you have the power to change the world every day. With one simple choice you can get farmers a better deal. And that means they can make their own decisions, control their futures and lead the dignified life everyone deserves.”

Fairtrade helps to get better prices for more than 1.4 million farmers and workers in 1,140 producer organisations, and to ensure decent working conditions and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers.

And it works. Look for the Fairtrade logo and you will see it on many goods – coffee, tea, chocolate, sugar, bananas, flowers, cotton … products that we all use every day and whose provenance most of us took for granted until the Fairtrade Foundation launched Fairtrade Fortnight in 1995.

We had no idea of the conditions in which farmers and workers produced the raw materials for the food and drinks that we loved. But the more we got to know about appalling conditions of quasi-slavery and the iniquitous payment systems of the global businesses that controlled these key commodities, the more we turned to the small but steadily growing number of Fairtrade products. We learned to ask for fairly traded coffee and bananas, products for which the growers were now receiving a proper payment, enabling them to send their children to school and to improve the standard of life for themselves and their communities. It was a win-win formula and many of us were glad to play our small part by choosing Fairtrade products.

The Fairtrade Foundation has come a long way since the first Fairtrade Fortnight in 1995, educating the public on why to choose Fairtrade and increasing sales on Fairtrade terms for marginalised producers – and in the process making the Fairtrade mark the best known ethical label in the UK.

But many of us who live in rural areas, who understand the problems faced by artisan food producers and farmers – particularly dairy farmers – would like to see a fair deal for them too. We can make an effort to find the local milk or cheese at the farmers market, farm shop or independent food store, if we are lucky enough to have them near where we live. We can search on the supermarket shelves for products that have the Red Tractor mark or a recognised organic or ethical brand. But it’s pot luck and inconsistent. We need not to believe that cheap is best, nor that tired old tabloid cliche that you “never see a poor farmer” because these days many of them are on the tightest of margins, hanging on by their fingertips, forced by unfair contracts and near-monopolistic practices to sell their milk for less than the cost of production.

We know it’s wrong, but the supermarkets play on our love of a “bargain.” Most of us have to live within our means, but if we can choose Fairtrade bananas over fruit from plantations where the bad old practices also continue, we can learn to ask for fairly traded British products, for milk at a price that allows the dairy farmer to make a modest profit and stay in business.

Fair trade for British farmers would be a great slogan for the 20th anniversary of Fairtrade Fortnight.

Fanny Charles