Fair( )trade

Fair trade: The more I think about it the more confusing it gets. I learnt a lot more about it at the social labelling conference from people who work for the key fair trade organisations. First there’s the fact that fair trade, and Fairtrade are not the same. This I did know before – fair trade is a generic term which anyone can use, whereas Fairtrade is a certifying organisation – proof that it is fair trade. What I hadn’t quite grasped before, I’m ashamed to say, was the limits of Fairtrade within apparel. Basically that when a t-shirt says ‘Fairtrade certified cotton’ it is literally just the cotton growing stage that is certified Fairtrade, not in fact the cotton processing stage or t-shirt manufacture stage. Makes sense now, but it’s so easy to just assume. It just seems strange that this is the case, and worth shouting about, when much of the labour intensive part is perhaps the sewing of the garment. I suppose it links on from the fact that the Fairtrade foundation’s most successful area is food, which comes straight from the farmer to us almost. Indeed they only developed the Fairtrade cotton standard in 2004 so perhaps the standard will develop and grow in due course, but if I hadn’t grasped that fact in full, no wonder other consumers are confused.

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