Fair Trade – What does it really mean?

2 August 2018

As organics, Fair Trade and conscious eating becomes highlighted in the media and in our changing buying habits, one thing is clear to us at Commonsense: our customers don’t want their purchases to have a negative impact on the people who grow, produce and process their favourite products.

Commonsense sources Fair Trade products from suppliers all over Aotearoa New Zealand and we have the widest selection of Fair Trade food in the country. This is something that has always been close to our hearts.

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So what exactly is 'Fair Trade?'

Long term Fair Trade producers, Karma Cola explain it like this:

“The Fairtrade system was put in place to protect farmers who were historically exploited by big businesses trading commodities from developing nations. It enables growers to be in control of their own business on their own farms and their own terms.”

So when you buy a certified Fairtrade product, you can trust that:

  • The farmers have been paid a fair price for their labour and product – and this is negotiated with them taking into account the cost of production.
  • Fair Trade farmers are paid a deposit – usually half the final invoice – before production.  Without this they sometimes lack the money and resources to plant their crop.  
  • Fair Trade communities are also paid a ‘social premium’ – extra money to invest in the community – this is often used to provide a school, a health centre, roads, bridges – or into increasing the sustainability of the land and crops.  The community gets together to decide how this is used;
  • Environmentally sustainable farming methods have been used.  Many Fair Trade farmers also have organic certification, because they don’t rely on multinational seed companies whose practices in the past have resulted in huge debts for the farmers.  Instead they have returned to traditional practices, almost always organic – and these can be enhanced by modern organic practices and tools.

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Image courtesy of Trade Aid NZ

Why does it matter?

It is important that our buying choices aren’t hurting the people who make products and grow our food. Every time you buy something, anything, you are making a choice about where your money will go. The deeper the understanding we can have about where our food comes from, the more choice it gives you as to how you spend your dollar. 

Fairtrade certification ensures that the money you spend protects the farmers and communities in the countries where some of our food is grown.

Do products have to be certified?

Much like the word ‘Organic’, there is no regulation in New Zealand on the words ‘Fair Trade’. So any producer can write ‘Fair Trade’, on their packaging without certification or any proof that it is true. The same goes for ‘ethically sourced’ and ‘equitably traded’ etc. When something is certified, you can rest easy knowing that strict regulations are in place to ensure your food isn’t coming at a high price to the people who made it.

As our co-founder and Fairtrade pioneer, Marion Wood puts it - “When something isn’t certified Fairtrade, we only have the employers and business owners’ word for it that their staff are being treated ethically, and that’s the difference between genuine ethical business and someone saying ‘I’m a good employer’. You can never take the word of the employer, you must always go past them and ask the workers. That’s part of the whole basis of Fairtrade – that the workers have a say.”

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So who can we trust?

A great start is with the certifications below. You’re bound to see others pop up, so it’s important to ask for help or todo your own research when you see these. In Aotearoa New Zealand we are lucky to have Trade Aid whose name is synonymous with Fair Trade -  anything sold by Trade Aid can be trusted. Trade Aid is certified by the World Fair Trade Organisation. The Fairtrade Labelling Association also certifies products all across the world.

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Why is fair trading important to Commonsense?

At Commonsense, we put ourselves out there as an ethical trader and an absolutely integral part of ethical trading is fair trading. That includes how we deal with our suppliers, our staff, our customers, with all people we’re involved with. As a business we are prepared to stand up and say ‘this is what we believe to be the right way to do business and we’re by no means perfect but this is the direction that we’re going in and fair trading is what we want to achieve.’ For us, Fair Trade is an essential part of what we do because it means that the products we’re selling are part of that ethical trading paradigm. And what we want to see is the whole of business become Fair Trade.

In the end, it comes down to a question of cost. And while the financial cost may be a little more for Fair Trade certified products, it is a relatively small price to pay to improve the lives of the people who spend their days growing, creating, processing and providing us with our favourite products.

It’s just Commonsense.

Learn more about Fairtrade labelling regulations here and buy some of our fantastic Fair Trade products online here!