Fair Trade is another term that consumers have seen on a growing number of products over the last two decades. You will find this especially true on coffee and chocolate.
But many consumers don’t understand what the term means, except that they pay more for a product bearing the logo. And some erroneously believe this certification has to do with the quality of the product they are purchasing.
Fair Trade is not a new concept, in fact it dates back to the 1940’s. Here’s the simplified version: certification companies in the US & Europe charge manufacturers a fee to use the logo, so long as those companies can prove the ingredients they are purchasing come from international farms where the workers have been paid a fair wage.
It’s a concept most people will gladly get behind. Farmers in less affluent countries should absolutely be paid fairly for their crops, just as farmers should here. And in countries where there is little regulation, this movement makes a lot of sense.
The problem (you knew there would be a problem), is that the price you pay for that fair trade pound of coffee or chocolate bar is significantly higher than it’s non-fair trade counterpart. An extra $1.26, for example, is not all going into the pockets of the farmers. It’s being divided up among the certification companies, brokers, importers, coops, shipping companies and manufacturers.
So what’s the solution?? Speak with companies and manufacturers about their sourcing. Many large manufacturers (such as the company we purchase our couverture from) will cut out all the middlemen and deal with the farmers directly. This means more money goes directly to the family farms. Manufacturers who visit farms and source their ingredients personally will negotiate a lower price for their ingredients, yet the farmers will receive a larger profit.
That’s not to say the Fair Trade movement isn’t worthy, it’s just…complicated. In a time where our food products have more cluttered marketing messages, certifications and logos…it’s important to understand what you are purchasing and why you are purchasing it!
For a small producer, paying thousands of dollars a year for inspectors, certifications and logo usage is prohibitive. But that doesn’t mean the products they are putting out don’t adhere to sustainable, socially conscious policies. It just means they can’t afford to brag about it.