Fair trade bananas from Dominican Republic, free trade coffee from Uganda… we’ve all grown familiar with the labels on the supermarket shelves in recent years. But what does “fair trade” really mean? And why should businesses as well as individuals make it a priority?
I wonder just how many people realise that Fair Trade goes well beyond ethically sourced foods and beverages? And that being fair trade can actually be good for business?
We’re all acquainted with the concept of “Free Trade” – open markets where goods and services are sold and exchanged without international restrictions or tariffs: a necessary condition for ambitious entrepreneurs and nations to succeed. The full-blooded pursuit of free trade was one of the reasons Bristol became a global force in trade several centuries.
But the very fact that “free trade” has no moral or ethical obligations attached can make it very ugly indeed… and Bristol still carries a conscience about the practices that made it the hub of the “Transatlantic Trade Triangle” in the 18th century. For free trade to operate to the benefit of everyone, and not just the few, it needs to be Fair as well. Idealistic nonsense in a cut-throat global economy? Not quite.
Two centuries on, and Bristol is one of the most active members of an international community that is working to ensure that ethics plays a key role in doing business. Ethics such as ensuring that those in supply chains aren’t exploiting or endangering their workers or using slave labour. Ethics such as buying goods from sustainable sources, that haven’t endangered habitats or inflicted a massive carbon footprint for the sake of supplying foods out of season.
So you know that if you have purchased a Fair Trade banana, it hasn’t been grown using forced or child labour and that sensible health and safety measures are in place: rights that we in Britain expect for ourselves. And if your necklace is made with Fair Trade gold, you know that it has been mined by people who get a fair price for their dangerous work – enough to plough back into their communities in the form of clean water and schools.
Extrapolate that to all the goods and services we source and – one day – we might just rid the world of the modern slavery industry, which is currently estimated to exploit up to 30 million people. And we might just grow the food we need without destroying the planet along the way.
These are the same codes that inform the green agenda we are pursuing as a city. Over 800 businesses and organisations have signed the Bristol Green Capital Partnership Pledge which is to make Bristol “a low carbon city with a high quality of life for all”. Further more than 150 businesses are participating in the Go Green Business scheme which provides a pathway for businesses wanting to integrate sustainability through all aspects of their business. Choosing to purchase and use ethically sourced goods and services such as Fair Trade is integral to both initiatives, demonstrating that your business is a force for good within the community.
Increasingly, consumers, other businesses and the Government itself are seeking out those companies who take sustainability seriously: selecting Fair Trade or other ethically sourced goods and services needn’t add to the cost of your supply chain and it will act as an extra reason for people to choose you over your competitors.
You can call it the Fair Trade “premium”. Or you can call it “making the world a better, fairer, greener place, one bit at a time”... something we can all play our part in.
For more information on Fair Trade and Bristol's green agenda visit: