Fair Trade goes mainstream

Stephanie Ware Barrientos (University of Manchester) gave participants in the Brussels Development Briefing an analysis of Fair Trade in the mainstream of food retailing. She focused on three questions: Why did Fair Trade and ethical consumerism grew into the mainstream? How does Fair Trade relate to other ethical sourcing schemes? What are the challenges and opportunities facing Fair Trade as it grows?

Why did Fair Trade and ethical consumerism grew into the mainstream?

Fair Trade has experienced rapid growth over the past ten years, both in terms of the quantity and range of products sold. The value of Fair Trade sales rose 40% annually in recent years. This growing social awareness is due to rising incomes of consumers, more accessible information, and increasing travel. Civil society organizations are increasingly campaigning for trade justice and corporate social responsibility. Supermarkets also play an important role: 25% of all UK Fair Trade products were supermarket ‘own brands’.

How does Fair Trade relate to other ethical sourcing schemes?

Fair Trade labelling is one of a growing number of ethical sourcing schemes. The mainstream is more and more embracing Fair Trade principles, as can be seen in company codes of labour practice, corporate social responsibility initiatives and other environmental and social labelling schemes.

What are the challenges and opportunities facing Fair Trade as it grows?

Similar to other speakers, Barrientos also drew attention to the challenges for Fair Trade. The complex supply chains of new products, such as cotton, make it more complicated to ensure compliance with standards. Moreover, due to the Fair Trade expansion to mainstream, we can expect more tensions between commercial and social Fair Trade objectives. The level of supermarket commitment is sometimes doubtful, and their negotiating power can put a downward pressure on prices. The expansion of Fair Trade, however, can be seen as an opportunity because it can now reach markets which were not accessible before. More small producers can benefit from Fair Trade labelling schemes, and new Fair Trade products can be developed. The overall rise pushes the Fair Trade movement closer to the goal of increasing fairness in trade.

Links: presentation, executive summary, video interview

See more from the 16 April Briefing

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