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Fair Trade and Environmental Protection

Originally published in Green Country, Issue 115 (Aug 2015)
Author: Green Power

As ethical consumption gains public awareness, we are seeing more fair trade products in the market. These are typically more eco-friendly than conventional products. In 2012, over half of fair trade products worldwide were also certified with organic labels. Therefore, it is common for people to link fair trade, environmentalfriendly and organic products.

“Fair Trade” refers to “minimisation of exploitation of producers. It provides a safe workplace for workers and farmers in developing countries and ensures a fair return for their labour… reduces environmental degradation and enables a sustainable, just society.” At present, there are two international certification systems of fair trade: Fairtrade International and the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO). Certified fair trade products can be identified by their labels.

Under the fair trade system, a minimum price is guaranteed for farmers and workers so they are not forced to adopt environmentally harmful ways of production while making reasonable earnings. Apart from the minimum price, producers can receive a premium which can be used to invest in social goods and environmental protection. Examples include setting up renewable energy facilities, provision of environmental education for farmers, habitat conservation, and development of new organic farming techniques. To obtain a fair trade label, producers must obey certain environmental standards such as reducing the use of pesticides and not using harmful pesticides, avoiding the use of genetically modified materials, proper handling of waste, and protection of soil and water.

Overall, fair trade producers must follow certain environmental regulations, and the retail price of the products contributes to premiums which encourage eco-production. Therefore, fair trade is often associated with environmental protection. However, some critics have pointed out that fair trade may involve over-production and a longer food mileage, so may not be more eco-friendly. In any case, fair trade encourages consumers to pay more attention to the source of products and the rights of producers, as well as the procedures and potential exploitation during production. This is good education for consumers.

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