The global fair trade market – in which goods and services are traded under the Fairtrade logo, guaranteeing a minimum fair price to producers experienced unprecedented growth in 2006. In the UK alone, 2006 sales totalled £290 million – a jump of 46 percent from 2005. The Fairtrade Foundation predicts sales will reach UK £300 million in 2007.
In 2005 Fairtrade sales were € 1.1 billion in the brand’s main markets of Switzerland, the UK, New Zealand, Australia and the US. At present fair trade works with 5 million farmers in the global South, and it represents an ever-increasing opportunity for Southern entrepreneurs.
A tipping point has been reached in Western awareness of and demand for the Fairtrade brand and concept, and it is now being adopted by major supermarkets. In the UK, 62 percent of consumers know the logo and understand what it means.
The concept of fair trade began in the Netherlands in 1988, when the Max Havelaar Foundation launched the Fairtrade consumer label with coffee from Mexico. Unlike conventional businesses, where the price paid to a producer is what the market dictates, fair trade guarantees the producer a minimum price for their product. This amount is set at a level that ensures the producer can live a life with dignity and meet all the essentials. A portion of the profits is also kept in a communal fund which the producers democratically elect to spend as they wish (many choose to spend it on community projects).
Fair trade has been criticized for a number of reasons. It has been seen as too small and marginal to really make inroads on poverty, and has been accused of privileging a small number of producers while ignoring the rest. It has also been criticized for not focusing enough on innovation and increasing production to really eradicate poverty in the developing world.
For all its faults and shortcomings, it is a fact that the Fairtrade brand is a runaway success and offers a wide range of opportunities for entrepreneurs.
In the UK, fair trade now includes 2,500 products, ranging from footballs, to tea, cotton and honey – up from just 150 in 2003, an astonishing rate of growth. Where fair-trade products were once confined to co-operative and charity shops, they are now widely sold in major supermarkets.
The success of fair trade is not confined to Europe and the US. It is growing in Japan, where, says fair trade retailer Sonoko Iwasa, “the concept of using trade to equalize the world by buying goods from developing countries from Asia and Africa was a notion that had no connection with everyday lives.”
Iwasa’s Rumaba Goods store just outside Tokyo sells organic chocolates from Africa, woollen gloves and hats from Nepal, and elegant clothes from Thailand. Iwasa found that the key in the highly competitive Japanese consumer market was to focus on quality, not fairness. This, she says, has made these products fashionable.
At present, the fair trade market is worth only about US $6 to $7 million a year in Japan and includes 1,500 products. But according to Michiko Ono of Japan’s best-known fair trade label, People Tree, the trend is catching on among the country’s socially aware youth.
To start a fair trade business, entrepreneurs or producers need first to contact the international body that certifies fair trade products and ensure that production meets the ethical standards required.
Published: January 2007
- The Fairtrade Foundation: Established in 1992, is a coalition of UK charities and is a member of the Fairtrade Labelling Organisations International. It sets the standards for fair trade and protects the trademark and copyright.
- The Authentic Business Network promotes doing business with a charitable purpose as well as profit. The website contains all the resources a budding entrepreneur requires to get started.
- DATA: Founded by lead singer Bono of the rock group U2, DATA tries to partner businesses to increase trade opportunities with Africa.
- The world’s largest online fair trade store is : Fairtrade UK
- Oxfam: The UK-based charity has been a pioneer in fair trade and has extensive resources on how to get involved in fair trade and a shop vending fair trade products.
- Ten Thousand Villages: An online fair trade shop selling handicrafts from around the world.
- Agbanga Karite: A Togo-based African-owned online retailer selling products made from unrefined shea butter, including soaps, creams and oils.
- Ananse Village: A fair trade online shop vending a wide range of crafts and products from Africa’s villages.
- Two sides of the fair trade story in film: Black Gold: Wake Up and Smell the Coffee and Bitter Aftertaste: A critical film about fair trade.
Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.
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