Is Fair Trade really fair?

I was inspired by the wonderful ‘Fishhead’ magazine (Wellington mag) to post about this topic. Fishhead wrote about this in their Dec/Jan issue. This post relates more to Fair Trade coffee but the principles extend into clothing too.

Fair trade logo

The pros

  • It’s still benefiting the growers in some way
    Those who have visited or studied Fair Trade coffee growers say that the Fair Trade certification really has no down side. Growers always receive a price above the market price for their coffee and they also benefit from participating in democratically run cooperatives and the projects like schools or clinics the cooperatives finance. “*
  • Cooperatives mean that the community get to decide what the extra money gets spent on (ie schools, books etc)
  • Fair Trade coffee growers sometimes get access to cheap credit, allowing them to hire extra labor for the coffee harvest and reap a greater payout as a result of harvesting more coffee than they could by themselves.*
  • Fair Trade coffee growers ideally have long-term relationships with the First World coffee roasters who buy their coffee.

The cons

  • Fair Trade certified is not all equal. Major retailers (such as Starbucks) are different from smaller companies like Havana. For example, Havana operates on a ‘real trade‘ basis which means that they don’t display the fair trade logo because they offer more than the international Fair trade premium for coffee.
  • It’s not easy to quantify exactly how the Fair Trade price translates into improved quality of life.*

I was in the Trade Aid shop and noticed that none of their coffee had the Fair Trade logo on it. I found out that they no longer display it because their coffee producers offers a higher price to the growers than the Fair trade. She said they had noticed that the larger corporations had jumped on the fair trade bandwagon when not all of their products were walking the talk.

So all things considered as a consumer it definitely makes sense to buy Fair Trade where possible. But to also be aware of the benefits the growers would get by buying ‘real trade’ products who have a close relationship with the growers/farmers.

(* source:


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