Trader Standards Get a Make-over

By Harriet Lamb, CEO, Fairtrade International

Trader Standards Get a Make-over

Do you have a flattering angle that you prefer for photos? Do you turn your head slightly toward the camera, nose down? Do you like looking wistfully off to the right? Among Fairtrade campaigners, a worryingly large number of people seem to think their best angle is in a banana suit.

But at Fairtrade, we definitely have an angle – it’s the farmers, it’s the workers – the people we serve, and it is all about improving the terms of trade to help them improve their livelihoods and plan for their future.

Enter stage right, the traders who, well, make trade happen at all! These are the exporters, the importers, the companies in the middle who shepherd coffee, tea, sugar and more from distant lands to your door (or at least to the brands who pack it up and then bring it to your grocery shelf).

As we look honestly at ourselves in the mirror, we know that in the past – keen to encourage direct trading relationships and support producers as they move up the supply chain – we haven’t always given enough time or attention to the traders. And there’s more than 3,500 of them in the Fairtrade system!

So if we are going to change terms of trade for producers, then these are the key players. We know that we need to work more closely with them, to share more information, listen more carefully to their needs and challenges, especially with committed 100% Fairtrade traders like La Siembra Cooperative in Canada, and with brilliant companies like Matthew Algie.

Way, way back in 2009 there was a blog post that I remember from James Hoffman , globally-recognized coffee expert, called the Fair Trade Finish Line. Now that’s a long time ago, but in it, he called out companies for bragging about their Fairtrade purchases and tried to sum up his feelings in a 140-character tweet.

“Fair Trade – the absolute minimum necessary to get people to stop questioning how you source, or pushing you to do better. Not enough.”

It was a valid point then and now – especially when it comes to exporters and importers. Smallholder groups and plantations have a tall order to come into Fairtrade – they organize, apply strict environmental standards, build democratic structures, and work to benefit their members and communities.

And of course there will always be room for the exporters and importers who do Fairtrade because their clients or consumers request it. But how do we make sure that this is just the start of the journey, bring our standards in line with global norms, and recognize those who go above and beyond?

Our improved Fairtrade Trader Standard, launched in early March, aims to answer that question. The revision comes out of a far-reaching consultation with approximately 400 stakeholders participating, including more than 170 traders, 100 producers, and input from workshops held in six countries.

With the help of all that input, we did some spring-cleaning and tidying-up: making the rules cleaner and clearer for everyone. And we’ve beefed up the core of our Trader Standard adding new requirements mandatory for all traders – thing like clarifying who in the chain is responsible for paying Fairtrade prices and Premiums, rules on trading with integrity, and additional environmental and labour requirements. This is good news to make sure everyone is competing on a similar level.

But some of the most exciting aspects are the rules we’ve brought in to encourage and recognise best practice. There are all sorts of importers, exporters and companies that go above and beyond the minimum in Fairtrade. And we know that we need to provide a pathway for others to improve their performance. Throughout the Trader Standard are suggestions for how to improve.

The voluntary requirement on minimizing negative environmental impacts or using biodegradable materials could help us recognise efforts from companies like trader and brand CafeDirect, who just launched new Fairtrade coffee pods with 60 percent less packaging and 50 percent lower carbon footprint.

Another best practice will look at how traders support producers by acting as a market liaison for them. Off the top of my head, I’d look at how the Joint Marketing Initiative, a project run by smallholder cooperatives and Twin Trading, is helping a number of coffee cooperatives develop markets for their coffee and improve their business practices.

Or Ben & Jerry’s, who recently celebrated transitioning all of their ice creams to Fairtrade certified ingredients, and go above and beyond in many ways to work with the farmers throughout their supply chain.

Or the folks at Oké USA, the banana and avocado importing arm of Equal Exchange in the US doing 100 percent Fairtrade and working closely with smallholder farmers keeping clear contracts and providing long-term buying commitments.

These are just a few examples, as are hundreds of companies large and small who go above and beyond our rules on trade. Get the full story on how our new Trader Standard is just as good for business as it is for the farmers and workers we serve.

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