In an ideal world, stores would only carry goods that are healthy for people and the planet. Until then, we must read labels and choose with care.
What does fair trade mean?
Fair trade helps promote sustainable agriculture around the world. Farmers are paid for what they grow based on internationally recognized standards on wages, labour rights, working conditions and prices. The practice supports farming co-ops, housing, and health and safety standards. Fair trade also means no child labour (workers under the age of 15, as defined by the International Labour Organization).
The dollars you spend on fair trade products allow children to go to school, provide safer working condition and help communities thrive. The fair trade certification system also prohibits GMOs and limits the use of agrochemicals.
What fair trade products can I buy?
Coffee: It's the second most traded commodity on Earth after oil! Growers have cleared millions of acres of land worldwide. They often use toxic pesticides and GMO varieties to increase production. Songbirds that summer in Canada usually spend winters in coffee-growing latitudes. Our coffee habits threaten a lot of their habitat! Help birds and other species. Choose coffee that has been triple-certified: fair trade, organic and shade-grown.
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Chocolate: Growers of cocoa — the chocolate bean — have also cleared millions of acres worldwide, evicting forest inhabitants, including boreal birds. The ILO (and others) report widespread child slavery on many cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast. In sub-Saharan Africa, 30 per cent of children under age 15 are labourers, often in agricultural activities. Avoid the bitterest side of chocolate — human trafficking or slavery. Choose certified fair trade chocolate.
Flowers: A conventional floral bouquet may be grown by children in a country far away, under nasty, pesticide-laden working conditions. Not a nice way to say "I care!" Plant seeds for long-lasting happiness. Choose fair-trade flowers or potted plants that restrict certain agrochemicals, pay fair wages (often double the standard) and avoid child labour.
Clothing: The opposite of fair trade threads is fast fashion that entices us to buy more for less. But cheap clothing and accessories are no bargain. They're not made to last. And low-priced items are more likely to contain lead — beware of bright and shiny handbags and wallets. Beading and sequins are a good indicator of child labour.
In Magnifeco: your head-to-toe guide to ethical fashion and non-toxic beauty, Kate Black says that when we pay less, we also get less: less transparency and accountability, and lower ethical standards and quality. Fair trade clothing brands commit to worker well-being, fair prices to suppliers, transparency, accountability, economic opportunities, no forced labour, respect for the environment (e.g., organic or low-pesticide production) and more.
Sports balls: Choose certified fair trade soccer balls, volleyballs (indoor and beach) and basketballs! These balls are made to last, hand-stitched (instead of machine-stitched) and PVC-free. Manufacturers must meet certain social, economic (e.g., fair wages) and environmental standards. Fair trade premiums contribute toward programs that help employees and their families, such as eye exams, diabetes tests, school supplies and clean drinking water for schools.
Watch for these two labels:
Fairtrade International (green, black and blue logo), a group of 25 organizations, certifies international fair trade standards that address the imbalance of power in trading relationships, unstable markets and the injustices of conventional trade. They connect disadvantaged producers to consumers, promote fairer trading conditions and empower producers to combat poverty and take more control over their lives.
Fair Trade Canada and Fair Trade USA (black, white and green logo) are leading third-party certifiers of fair trade products. They uses a market-based approach that gives farmers fair prices, workers safe conditions, and entire communities resources for fair, healthy and sustainable lives.
Make informed decisions to reduce your environmental footprint. Understand labels and claims found on everyday products. Search for certified eco-labels such as fair trade. You'll be a sustainable shopper. And you'll empower and help people around the world.
Lindsay Coulter a fellow Queen of Green