I remember a time when getting fairly traded products – ones with an assurance that the original producers were being treated like people with dignity and not insignificant cogs in the machine – meant going to specialist suppliers. I remember seeing the UK retail environment change and it becoming easy to make fair trade choices for commonplace exotics, like coffee and chocolate, in any major supermarket. And I have observed that that we seem to have moved past ‘peak fairness’; choices seem to be reducing and some of the companies carrying the badging have major question marks (I just checked on the Ethical Consumer website and Nestlé get an ethical rating of 0/20!).
It isn’t all bad news. Partly it is just diversification in the market due to increased demand. There are now lots of different badges signifying fairer behaviour and the long-established Fair Trade Foundation actively celebrates this. However, consumers still need to keep an active interest, choosing not to buy when there is no alternative with ethical credentials (I’m quite good at this) and actively asking suppliers to fill those gaps (I’m less good at this).
This is going to be doubly important during the coming period in the UK. Sterling has been weakening internationally and I expect it probably won’t improve much while the Article 50 negotiations are going on. This causes the price of imported goods to rise, which is being seen reflected on shop shelves. Even as my UK money doesn’t go as far, I still need to invest in those producers who are trying to stretch their incomes enough to create goods in sustainable ways and achieve a decent living from their hard work.