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

Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown

Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright has won The Apprentice 2014
tvThe Apprentice 2014 final
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Darrell Banks’s ‘Open The Door To Your Heart’
music
News
Detective Tam Bui works for the Toronto Police force
news
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor winner Ben Haenow has scored his first Christmas number one
music
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

    Carlton Senior Appointments: Private Banking Manager - Intl Bank - Los Angeles

    $200 - $350 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: Managing Producer – Office...

    Carlton Senior Appointments: San Fran - Investment Advisor – Ind Advisory Firm

    $125 - $225 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: San Fran - Investment Advi...

    Sheridan Maine: Commercial Finance Manager

    Up to £70,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...

    Sheridan Maine: Regulatory Reporting Accountant

    Up to £65,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...

    Day In a Page

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'