Consuming Issues: Let's be fair to Fairtrade - it can reduce poverty

Even buying tea and coffee poses a dilemma these days: do you pick up the virtuous but more expensive Fairtrade packs which promise to help poor foreign farmers, or do you quietly pocket the cash and buy a normal product? This week some national newspapers may have given the impression that you needn't bother buying Fairtrade.

A report by the London-based think-tank the Institute of Economic Affairs, called Fair Trade Without The Froth, by Dr Sushil Mohan of Dundee University, cast doubt on the fast-growing movement and was given an airing in several newspapers. Quite right, too, for the good reason of balance, given the number of highly supportive pieces about Fairtrade that appear in the media.

Nonetheless, the 134-page report was not quite as damning as readers may have been led to believe. The headline on page two of Thurday's Guardian was "Costly Fairtrade Foundation accused of failing coffee farmers". The first sentence read: "Multinational companies such as Starbucks, Kraft and Nestlé do more for coffee farmers than the Fairtrade Foundation, according to a critical report from a free-market think-tank."

Now, I've read the report (from an organisation wary of a movement that criticises international trade) and, actually, it's not that critical at all. In fact, it doesn't seriously question that Fairtrade sends back more cash to farmers than they would receive if they sold their products on the open market, even taking into account the costs of forming themselves into co-operatives and obtaining certification as suppliers.

In case you don't believe me, this is one of the report's conclusions: "There is no question that Fairtrade will help some producers, and it may help [to] build more general business capacity that improves the prospects for development more generally within the communities within which it operates. It is a strategy for development that may well help seven million or more people in this way."

Instead, Dr Mohan comes up with a series of quibbles about different aspects of Fairtrade, none of which alters the central fact that it helps poor farmers. Here are a few:

* Fairtrade's marketing undermines the far greater benefits arising from (more plentiful) ordinary free trade;

* Fairtrade is concentrated in middle-income states rather than the very poorest ones;

* Fairtrade imposes costly demands on farmers that force them to spend money on becoming certified;

* Academic studies suggest that only 10 to 25 per cent of the extra money charged for Fairtrade products goes back to farmers; retailers and others pocket much of the rest.

Overall, Dr Mohan concludes that Fairtrade, while doing some good, is small and accounts for only 0.01 per cent of global food and beverage sales. Development and the removal of western trade barriers can, and will, help developing countries more than Fairtrade, he argues. Now, there is no time to answer each point, but let us look at the report's central charge: that Fairtrade is not "a poverty panacea or general long-term development strategy".

Well, Fairtrade alone cannot save the world, that's for sure. But it is still a neat idea: shoppers opt to pay more for commodities so that more money is returned to the farmers who grow them. Certainly, it is a shame that not all of the premium charged in the shops goes back (though sometimes there is no premium) but the little extra that goes back goes a long way; it makes the difference between grinding poverty and comfortable subsistence, where school and hospital fees can be paid and glass put into the windows of homes. Fairtrade isn't perfect, but as the cotton growers of Mali or coffee growers of Tanzania or sugar planters of Belize would point out, it is not a perfect world.

m.hickman@independent.co.uk

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
The veteran poverty campaigner Sir Bob Geldof issues a stark challenge to emerging economies at the Melbourne HIV/Aids conference
health
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and John Malkovich talk Penguins of Madagascar at Comic-Con
comic-con 2014Cumberbatch fans banned from asking about Sherlock at Comic-Con
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
filmGuardians Of The Galaxy should have taken itself a bit more seriously, writes Geoffrey Macnab
News
Sir Chris Hoy won six Olympic golds - in which four events?
news
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
News
Lars Ulrich of Metallica performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 2014
people
Arts and Entertainment
film
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Extras
indybest
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Associate Recruitment Consultant - IT

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Computer Futures has been est...

    Business Analyst

    £300 - £350 per day: Orgtel: Job Title: Business Analyst Rate: £300 - £350 per...

    Trade Desk Specialist (Linux, Windows, FIX, Finance, Networks)

    £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (Linux, Windows, FIX...

    Associate CXL Consultant

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

    Day In a Page

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform