Thinking Outside the Mug with Fair Trade

Posted on October 15th, 2019

Thinking Outside the Mug with Fair Trade

Thinking Outside the Mug with Fair Trade

Fair Trade Coffee Today

Accounting for a quarter of all retail sales and nearly half of all producers in Fair Trade, coffee is undoubtedly one of the most well-known Fair Trade commodities sold around the world today. Mainstream coffee shops like Starbucks even source some of their coffee from Fair Trade suppliers, bringing hundreds of millions of coffee drinkers worldwide into contact with the movement. Due to its growing popularity with consumers, coffee overwhelmingly dominates the subject material relating to Fair Trade. Take, for instance, the fact that nearly 100 of the World Fair Trade Organization's (WFTO) resources on Fair Trade are about coffee––far more than the number dealing with other well-known Fair Trade products like bananas, cocoa, and sugar. But you shouldn't let the massive, perhaps even disproportionate, presence of coffee and other agricultural goods limit your understanding of the possibilities of Fair Trade. There is a vast array of Fair Trade goods out there, and, all things considered, the Fair Trade marketplace probably has a much lower caffeine content than you might have initially suspected.

Origins of Fair Trade Coffee

Still, you might be wondering how coffee became such a big part of Fair Trade. Well, as most histories of Fair Trade published on the internet will tell you, coffee was the first good to be labeled and sold as a Fair Trade product in supermarkets (as opposed to being sold in “World Shops” that specialized in Fair Trade artisan handicrafts). Labeling products to be sold in ordinary stores proved to be a great marketing success, and since it was the original product to use that scheme, Fair Trade coffee sales soared. It also turns out that the coffee market was already the focus of international attention before the labeling scheme arrived in 1988: the UN had actually drafted a coffee trade agreement more than twenty years prior (in 1962). Other factors, such as the delocalization of global food markets, also help to explain why coffee and other agricultural goods were well-suited to the aims and structure of the Fair Trade movement.

What Else Can Fair Trade Offer?

In spite of all this, Fair Trade products are not restricted only to Fair Trade produce. In recent years, retailers and FTOs have begun to shift focus from solely agricultural products like coffee and tea to include more apparel and home goods. The past decade has seen many big-name fashion brands adopt ethical sourcing practices, and Fair Trade USA recently drew attention to the rapid success of its Apparel and Home Goods Program, which grew by 66% in 2016 alone. It may be that the Fair Trade movement is returning to its original focus on helping small producers and artisans following the ideological shift that guided the Fair Produce boom. While there's no avoiding the coffee or cocoa completely, online destinations like our marketplace highlight the variety of goods that can be sourced ethically, such as cosmetics, toys, home decorations, and clothing. Encouragingly, the list goes on and on.

Why Should We Care?

OK, so Fair Trade covers more than simply food and drink products––great. Just because they exist doesn't automatically mean you should buy them. But there are plenty of reasons to buy from producers in non-agricultural sectors like handmade crafts and clothing. Here are a few of them:

  • Small crafts producers don't always get a fair shake in the supermarket/labeling model of Fair Trade. Many have difficulty getting certified because the nature of their goods vary so much, and often don't fit with commodity-based certification requirements (or costs).
  • Buying Fair Trade clothing is an alternative to supporting Fast Fashion, an industry and shopping paradigm that is notorious for its appalling abuses of the environment and garment workers.
  • Fair Trade crafts and clothing companies are consistently recognized for their outstanding products and social entrepreneurship. In other words, you're paying for higher quality and better real-world outcomes.

Fair Trade coffee and produce is great, but it's also helpful to think outside, or beyond, the mug––the possibilities are endless when it comes to making your money count.

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