What is wrong with Fair Trade?

Is it a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ to fair trade? Some things we should discuss about it.

Last week was hold in London a Fair Trade Week where people all around the world gathered to show their fair trade products and discuss the topic. When it is about fair trade we might believe there is nothing to discuss. But actually there still are many things to debate.

I will go through the things we must change of fair trade first. Then I will praise it.

First, the only unfair thing about fair trade is that customers pay the price. Yes people are willing to pay a bit more if it is to have a better product and more if it is organic, sustainable and helping poor communities. But let’s be true, in the current economy not all can afford buying a-bit-more-expensive-products. That is the reason people still go and buy fast fashion clothes or the cheapest meat in the store. Then, what we should be debating is how to make more competitive fair trade products so people can have the best fair trade products whitout limiting their economy.

How to make it? Many options to discuss. First, and perhaps the most obvious, I do beleive that products that enhance unsustainable chains and economies should be much more expensive. Not the opposite way. Taxation will be a way to control this and to offer better spaces to fair trade products. Yet, once again,  it is not the final solution. Thus, too much to do and discuss.

Second, it is for wealthy people. Which is alright, but poor people should have access to organic sustainable good quality fair trade products, too. When I asked one fair trade producer from Nicaragua if she has access to fair trade products besides the ones she produces the answer was evidently ‘no’. Then, fair trade producers themselves do not promote fair trade because they consume other products. And it is just because they do not have the option. However, they should. Fair trade products should stop being just for a special niche market and start looking and working for a whole market option. Is it an utopia? Perhaps, but that is the world we need.

Now, why to promote fair trade? Mainly for three reasons: sustainable production, sustainable consumption, and especially because of sustainable development (for the producers and their communities). Fair trade is not only about paying the correct price to producers, it is not about giving a little bit more. Fair trade is about -or should be about- changing the whole business chain, the way we consume and buy, and the way we care about how producers (farmers mostly) are developing their communities and lives whilst selling their products in a better way.

I will just add that every time we buy a fair trade product we must be cynical and supportive. That is to say that not because it has a nice certificate is the correct option. Go beyond that and really go through how is this product actually helping the producers and how the money is being used. Since, how I wrote before, it is not about paying a bit more and a better price. Fair trade is about changing production, consumption and lives. In order to achieve this we should make fair prices, supportive governments and institutions, change business governance, and get involved.

To finish this post, I will give an expample of fair trade beyond food. In the Utopia exhibition as part of the London Fashion Week, Jared Servano presented one of his dresses done with fair trade materials. Inspired by Van Gogh’s paintings and Philippines’ mountains, he did this ellegant and gorgeous night dress all done with banana hemp. The dress ‘DALOY NG HILBA’ (Fiber Flow) uses fair trade since the designer got involved with the producers to pay them what was good and fair, and because the material by itself is ecologically sustainable.

So, what you think? Any ideas? It is time for you to speak and me to listen.


Ciao ciao.


#sustainability #fairtrade #utopiaphilipinnes #fashionweek

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