Many people, especially young people, will be familiar with the term ‘Fairtrade’ and will be aware it is used in relation to consumer goods, be they food, clothing, crafts amongst  many other commodities. However, many will not know the true meaning of 'Fair.'

As Fairtrade is associated with being active in developing nations and in particular working with impoverished communities, it is easy to think that Fairtrade is a charity.  

Fairtrade is not a charity. Fairtrade says that it is actually a partnership for change and development through trade.  It uses modern business disciplines that brings together farmers and workers, supply chain partners, retailers,  shoppers, brands, international development organisations, schools and government and commits all to a fairer deal  for those producing the food and products we use daily.  

Farmers and workers have and still do suffer injustices from being disadvantaged by traditional but outdated global  trade practices. Their low incomes can now be supplemented with an immediate lifeline for themselves and their  communities. 

In the United Kingdom, Fairtrade is represented by the Fairtrade Foundation which is part of Fairtrade International. 

The Fairtrade Organisation has been in existence since the 1960s. Its earlier aims were to provide disadvantaged suppliers in Asia, Africa and Latin America with advice, assistance and support with the ultimate goal being greater equity in international trade. 

From this, the message of “Trade not Aid” was developed. This approach put the emphasis on the establishment of equitable trade relations with producers in developing nations instead of seeing the developed nations keeping all the benefits and  only returning a small part of these benefits in the form of development aid. 

Fairtrade initially focused on the marketing of craft products that supported producers and production, provide  social services (for example, schools and clinics) to producers, and export to markets in the wealthiest nations thus  providing a strong base for nations that were politically and economically marginalised. 

In its early days Fairtrade, through missionaries and charities, supported mostly handicrafts producers, because it  was these items that would provide supplementary income to families. They were and still are of crucial importance  to households headed by women who have limited employment opportunities. Handmade products became popular for selling products from developing countries. 

In the 1970s this then extended to coffee from cooperatives of small farmers in Guatemala. Now, thousands of coffee farmers have benefited from Fairtrade in coffee because in Europe, Fairtrade coffee has become a popular choice for many consumers.  

After the success of coffee, Fairtrade expanded their food range and started selling commodity products like tea, cocoa, sugar, wine, fruit juices, nuts, rice and spices.  

Food products enabled Fairtrade to open new markets, such as institutional markets, supermarkets and bio shops. In  addition to these food products, other non-food products such as flowers and cotton have been added to the  Fairtrade assortment. 

Fairtrade has mobilised consumers to participate in campaigning activities for more global justice. 

In the course of the years, the Fairtrade movement has become more professional in its awareness-raising and  advocacy work, and in contributing to overcoming poverty and exclusion and enabling small and marginalised  producers in their countries to live and work in dignity. 

A common question asked of Fairtrade is how much of the retail price is actually received by the producer.  Whatever price is paid for the goods, an item that carries the FAIRTRADE mark, a fair price is agreed with the  producers; they will also benefit from a Fairtrade Premium that invests for the long-term benefit in their local  communities.

Fairtrade products are increasingly available in supermarkets, independent stores and shops, restaurants and cafes.  There are shops which are part of BAFTS (British Association of Fair Trade Shops) that stock and sell Fairtrade  products that are not generally available in mainstream shops.

As individuals we can consciously start buying more Fairtrade products – food and non-food – where Fairtrade is an alternative, e.g. Fairtrade branded coffee against longer established brands. Look out for products that have the  Fairtrade logo on it. We may not be able to have much impact on our own but collectively and in larger numbers we can become a  force for good and for change.