Introduction to Fair Trade

It hit me very early on that something was terribly wrong, that I would see silos full of food and supermarkets full of food, and kids starving. … In Fair Trade, we see ourselves as this infinitesimal part of the world economy. But somebody’s got to come up with an alternative model that says children eating is No. 1.
Medea Benjamin, co-founder, Global Exchange

The Second International Fair Trade Colloquium held on June 2006 at the UQÀM in Montréal posed the following questions:

· How can Fair Trade remain an alternative that distinguishes itself from conventional trade without bearing the risk of remaining marginal?

· What are the advantages, the risks and the conditions of success for fair trade certification?

· Is it possible to preserve the movement’s values while increasing market access? For example: what are the consequences of distributing Fair Trade products in supermarkets?

· How do Fair Trade initiatives distinguish themselves from other commercial enterprises that have socially responsible and sustainable policies?

· What influence has Fair Trade had on the institutional context and practices of traditional business enterprises?

· Does Fair Trade improve the living conditions of producers?

· Does it contribute to sustainable development?

· What is Fair Trade? What should it be?

Paul Rice believes that companies will find that Fair Trade is good for business; and they will grow fair trade product lines out of self-interest, rather than pity for the growers[1]. I will propose that since the current focus is to sell and to buy fair trade products as an act of conscience, it is still the pity for the growers that impulse the movement.

Some of the 25 million farmers, with less than 25 acres, depend on coffee for their livelihood. Coffee is 24% of total exports from Honduras in 2000, 43% from Uganda and 54% from Ethiopia[2]. The price of competition is driving a lot of people out, in Central America, an estimate of 200,000 permanent workers and 400,000 seasonal workers have lost their jobs. In the other hand, coffee employment have rise in Vietnam from 300,000 to four and five million today[3].

Fair trade coffee claims now only 1% of US retail market, while in Europe, where the movement have existed longer, the amount is 5%.[4]

[1] Paul Rice profile,, retrieved on May, 2006.

[2] Oxfam, p. 8.

[3] European Coffee Federation, “ECF Comments on Oxfam ‘Make Trade Fair’ Campaign,” pamphlet, p. 2.

[4] Brink Lindsey, “Grounds for Complaint?”, Adam Smith Institute, 2004, p. 7


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