Fair Trade: The Basics – with Kiera Jones

Fair Trade is a topic I personally had no knowledge about until my friend Kiera suggested it be a topic I write about on my blog. (Which i love – if you’re reading this and have a topic you want me to write about, let me know!)
Already, I believe I am a more conscious consumer, often trying to avoid plastics when I can and trying to buy local products, however Fair Trade is something I’ve never really delved into. Kiera sent me a few links and some info she’d typed up herself, and with all of this new information I studied up.

The first and most prominent fact that stood out to me, is that without Fair Trade, there is slavery, child labour, abuse, human trafficking and poverty.

All of the products we use in our daily lives can be split into three categories:

  • critical products – we know conditions are poor for workers and communities
  • products that are hard to tell 
  • products we know have been made in a fair way

These products include food, clothes, furniture, electronics, cosmetics – everything we use and consume really.

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Critical Products include:
– tea
– coffee
– bananas
– coconut
– chocolate
– flowers
– sugar
– cotton
– gold

These products are only grown in vulnerable communities with poor regulations and when buying, we often have no alternative source.

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Sugar is a Critical Product, often produced in vulnerable countries with poor regulations

Critical products are made in countries where farms have had many accounts of slavery, poor pay, abuse, trafficking and child labour. Even though some products are made in countries which have a set minimum wage, people are still exploited and taken advantage of with below-standard wages because the families living in these vulnerable communities are desperate to take any work, or have no rights.

Fruit and rice are an example of products that are hard to tell, as there are countries we can buy them from which don’t have poor welfare regulations. By having alternative countries we can buy the products from it stops us from contributing to the problem, however it doesn’t help the vulnerable communities directly. The most ideal situation would be to buy fruit and rice which are Fair Trade from vulnerable countries, however this is not always possible as there are not always fair trade versions.

How do we help this situation? Especially as so much of it occurs far from us?

The best thing we can do as a consumer is to make other people aware of this issue – its real and prevalent. Vote with your dollar and support companies with products that are Fair Trade certified, and refuse to buy products which are not. If everyone becomes more conscious of what they purchase, it is possible to drive out demand from other businesses which use ingredients or products from vulnerable and exploited countries and communities.

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Products that are Fair Trade meet internationally agreed social, economic and environmental standards. These standards include:
– protection of workers rights
– protection of children
– preservation of environment
– payment of Fair Trade Minimum Price*
– Fair Trade Premium*

* Fair Trade Minimum Price – wages which cover the cost of sustainable production, and protects workers from fluctuations in market price
* Fair Trade Premium – an additional sum of money goes into a communal fund for workers and farmers to improve their social, economic and environmental conditions e.g. education, healthcare, infrastructure.

Look for products you consume in the supermarket with the Fair Trade Mark. They will be more expensive than ‘regular’ products, but this is because everyone in the supply chain is receiving a fair and equal living wage.
Products that are Fair Trade Certified have this sticker.Fairtrade_Certification_Mark.svg.pngFor a product to have this mark, it must meet the standards and be certified by the Fair Trade organisation.

Otherwise, Trade Aid is an organisation which sources all Fair Trade products. It’s a certified company which sets up work for people in vulnerable communities to help them build up their communities and economy. Their shops stock Fair Trade versions of critical products, and they have an online store too.

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Currently, you can’t get a full Fair Trade pantry yet, but its only a matter of time before we all have access to ethically sourced products in every sense.

It feels good to be a conscious consumer and try to be as ethical as possible when it comes to consumption, however there are a few other things to consider.

For many people, budgets limit the purchases we make, and paying rent, power, internet and then food too – it can sometimes be hard to justify the extra dollars when you don’t have many extra to spend yourself.

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It can be hard to justify spending extra dollars on Fair Trade goods when as New Zealanders, we don’t receive a living wage

Student budgets can be very tricky – its at this stage of your life where you are trying to live as cheaply as possible – so Fair Trade products often aren’t even an option for the average student.

Also, New Zealand doesn’t currently pay a living wage, the minimum wage ($15.75) is not enough to keep up with inflation which has sky rocketed house rents and certain food prices also. It’s hard to shop ethically when we are not being paid a fair wage ourselves.

Kiera says she always buys her critical products fair trade (chocolate, sugar, bananas, coffee) and for other foods where its hard to know, she tries her best.
She looks for countries that have good welfare regulations and those countries she buys everything else from – rice, oats, fruits, veges, beans and nuts. Sometimes these products are made in places where its hard to tell if its ethical, so instead she’ll purchase products from Australia, New Zealand and Canada. She’s picked these countries because they have good regulations.

So with a combination of their products + her critical Fair Trade products gives her a full pantry. While she’s singled out Australia, Canada and New Zealand, Kiera says there are still many more countries with good regulations.

Food labels can sometimes be a little tricky however.

If a label says ‘Product of New Zealand’ then it is a product of New Zealand.

However, if a label says ‘Made in New Zealand’ or ‘Made with Local and Imported Ingredients’ the product is not necessarily Fair Trade. For example, the product may contain sugar from a non-fairtrade farm.

Non-processed meats and eggs are suitable and easy to find Fair Trade, but dairy products and processed meats often have sugar and other ingredients added which is where it gets complicated.

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This is an example of a food label which states that the added sugar in the product is Fair Trade

Kiera says for her, sugar is hard when it comes to conscious consumption, as its added in everything and is not necessarily Fair Trade unless stated. To avoid this problem, she says the best thing to do is to buy as many wholefoods as possible and reduce your consumption of processed foods – ‘its better for your health anyway!’
And if you want a sugar kick, buy Fair Trade goodies, there are lots of yummy Fair Trade chocolates and more!

Becoming a more conscious consumer sounds harder than it is, but it can be done!
Kiera says she’s not perfect – ‘I still go to restaurants, eat out, buy sauces and other processed foods, but its about being as ethical as you can,’

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Little Island Coconut Creamery is a New Zealand brand which produces Fair Trade coconut milk products

New Zealand has many local businesses which produce Fair Trade, ethical products.
Little Island Coconut Creamery, Whittakers, Kowtow, Kathmandu, Altura Coffee, Kokako, Havana Coffee Works, Scarborough Fair, Forage and Bloom, Coffee LalaCaffe L’affareCelcius Coffee, Stone Arrow Jewellery,  – to name a few.

Food is one issue, but what about the rest of the products we use?

I’m talking Clothes, Jewellery, Furniture, Cosmetics and Electronics.

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Cotton – is one of the most unethically sourced products globally. As consumers, we need to avoid supporting the system of fast fashion by buying second hand clothes, or less new ones. Kiera says living in Wellington has made this easy for her as it has lots of thrift shops with cheap second hand clothing. There are Fair Trade Clothing brands that exist which are more expensive, however for people who already buy expensive clothes this could be a good option.

Jewellery is another category of products which are often unethically sourced e.g. gold and diamonds. There are lots of Fair Trade Jewellery brands out there, especially if you shop local and buy jewellery from local artists. Stone Arrow Jewellery is an ethical and sustainable New Zealand Jewellery brand, and had been a finalist for sustainable business awards.

Furniture can be an ethical issue due to cotton used for the upholstery, but its often hard to know for sure. A solution for this is to buy second hand furniture, use locally produced furniture, or research Fair Trade furniture brands.

Cosmetics are another category which can be tricky sometimes.
With soaps, shampoos, skincare and moisturisers there are many good options, or you can even make your own. Trade Aid can be a good place to find these products, otherwise New Zealand has quite a few small companies which produce ethical toiletries.

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Lush have a small range of foundations with Fair Trade ingredients

Make up is something Kiera says is so hard to find Fair Trade and ethical products, at the same time as being affordable on her student budget.
Lush and Body Shop try to use some Fair Trade ingredients, but it’s still tricky as cosmetics are not certified in the same way food is. Kiera says there are some Fair Trade makeup brands online, which are a bit pricier than ‘drugstore’ makeup. However there’s a low selection, which can be hard if you have sensitive skin or acne.
Blać Cosmetics and Nude by Nature are good natural and cruelty free makeup choices, and another solution is to buy less. For products that you know aren’t Fair Trade like your makeup, use less and buy less.

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Phone batteries and circuit boards contain unethically sourced minerals

Electronics are the hardest Fair Trade product. Minerals used in phone and laptop batteries are extremely unethically sourced. There are a few brands in the process of creating a Fair Trade cellphone, so keep your eyes peeled in the future!

Fairphone is a company which has already created the world’s first ethical, modular smartphone. It retails around $860 NZD, which is pretty comparable to iPhone prices. The battery is replaceable too, so if it dies you can just switch out the battery instead of buying a whole new phone. You can also purchase almost any spare part for the phone, again instead of re-purchasing a whole new phone.

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Fairphone has produced a Fairtrade cellphone, and all the components of the phone are replaceable

For now, Kiera suggests not to buy a phone just because a newer model has come out, only buy when your existing phone becomes unusable, and consider buying second hand.

It’s been interesting for me learning a bit more about Fair Trade consumption, and thank you Kiera for sharing what you know with me!

We could all probably become more conscious consumers, however after delving into the issue it brought up issues closer to home – including the absence of a proper, updated living wage in New Zealand which can make it hard to spend more on ethical products when we aren’t being treated ethically ourselves. However if you can afford an extra few dollars in your weekly spending, vote with your dollar and refuse to buy products unless are Fair Trade and have been ethically sourced.

To see what Fair Trade versions of critical products that are available in New Zealand, go to Fair Trade Australia New Zealand and read their categories. I contacted them about the possibility of compiling a condensed list of Fair Trade brands and products, and they responded with interest so hopefully sometime in the near future this document will be available!

Thank you Kiera again for opening my eyes to another important issue ❤

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