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Column: The importance of Fair Trade

Fair Trade is not just a label on a product. It's a movement, says SFU spokesperson Kylee Pocrnich.
SFU Fair Trade Ambassador Program Coordinator Kylee Pocrnich explains why now is more important than ever to care about Fairtrade products.

If you found out your friend was being exploited — being subject to low wages, unsafe working conditions, discrimination, etc. — what would you do?

You would stand up for them! You wouldn’t stand aside; you would do whatever it takes to ensure they are treated fairly and paid what they deserve.

Well, what about producers from the Global South? If you found out they were being exploited, what would you do?

Unfortunately, here is where we run into a problem. Producers are often exploited, yet consumers in the Global North either don’t know or don’t care.

Multinational corporations oftentimes do not want you to know about the poor living conditions of faraway producers. However, producers are people with families and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect and to have their rights met.

This is where Fair Trade comes in. When you buy products with the Fairtrade logo, you have the assurance that producers are being treated fairly and that the company shares the same values as you.

The term Fair Trade refers to the movement fighting for fair treatment of producers. The term Fairtrade refers to the trademarked Fairtrade logo and the organizations associated with it, such as Fairtrade International and Fairtrade Canada.

There are three main components to Fairtrade.

Firstly, we have the Fairtrade Standards. These include economic standards, which include income stability, financial independence, and long-term partnerships. The environmental standards consist of ecologically and agriculturally sound practices, such as prohibiting GMO’s. Finally, the social standards require transparency and participatory decision-making and prohibit issues like gender or cultural discrimination and child or slave labour.

Secondly, there's the Fairtrade Minimum Price, ensuring producers receive a consistent income regardless of market conditions. Even during downturns in the open market, Fairtrade producers are guaranteed not to earn below a specified amount. While their income increases during favourable market conditions, this mechanism serves as a safety net, offering stability to producers.

Finally, we have the Fairtrade Premium. This is an additional sum of money these producer communities earn that they have full control over how it is spent. Premiums return to producer co-ops, who democratically decide how to invest this money in their community in a way that is important to them. These premiums oftentimes go to build roads, schools and hospitals.

Why should we care about Fairtrade now?

Canadians are becoming more and more distrustful of large corporations. However, that’s not true for the Fairtrade Mark (the logo). Out of people who know the logo, trust levels have risen from 82 per cent in 2021 to 85 per cent in 2023. This shows how, despite uncertainty in the world, Canadians are becoming more aware of the importance of  Fairtrade.

How can we make a difference? The most important thing is to be conscientious consumers. Next time we go shopping, we should make an effort to purchase Fairtrade products. Certain items — coffee, chocolate, sugar, bananas, tea — are easy to find Fairtrade alternatives for. We can either make an effort to look for the logo or do some research in advance of different stores offering Fairtrade products. Fairtrade Canada’s website, for example, offers a handy page to refer to when you are looking for stores offering Fairtrade products. As consumers, we have power and need to make our voices heard — buying Fairtrade products is a sign to companies that we want our products made ethically.

Something as simple as spreading the word about the importance of Fair Trade makes a huge difference as well. Telling your friends and family about why Fairtrade and Fairtrade-certified products are so important can help people see the value in their purchasing power.

We can also join the Fair Trade movement to make a difference. There are Fair Trade-certified towns, campuses, schools, workplaces, faith groups, and events. Joining these programs allows us to fight for producers' rights and make a difference while forming a network with other activists.

That’s what we do at Simon Fraser University. We have the honour of being Canada’s first and only Gold-certified Fair Trade campus. We work hard to promote Fair Trade on our campus and in the community and do our part to improve the livelihoods of producers in the Global South.

From hosting events, to writing blogs, to attending the National Fair Trade Conference, we aim to do our part in empowering farmers. Raising awareness about the horrible conditions many producers face and how Fair Trade is combatting this is a key way to work to make the world a better place. 

In conclusion, Fair Trade is not just a label on a product; it is a movement that embodies the values of justice, equality, and sustainability.

By caring about Fair Trade, engaging in conversations about its importance, and taking action to support fair trade practices, we can all play a role in building a more equitable and sustainable world for present and future generations.

Kylee Pocrnich is the program coordinator for the fair trade ambassador program at Simon Fraser University (SFU).