With the news last week that Sainsbury's were withdrawing from the Fairtrade Foundation's labelling trademark, the old question of "what is fair trade?" has raised its head yet again. Some will view the supermarket giant's move as a death blow to the fair trade movement, others will see it as a continuation of the diversification we've seen in fair trade since the concept started to gain traction in the forties and fifties.
As a fair trade retailer, it's something we are constantly aware of, and it can be an ongoing battle to get our message across through the static. For clarity, we use the World Fair Trade Organisation's ten principles to guide our buying decisions and help us to choose what to stock in the shop. So far, we think we've got it broadly right, though we have never shied away from adding products like books and magazines which we feel complement the "pure" fair trade products we sell.
Ultimately the Fairtrade Foundation, who issue the recognisable "Fairtrade" logo, do not have a monopoly on the concept of "fair trade." At the same time, for Sainsbury's (and Tesco) to be withdrawing from a scheme that is so well respected is disappointing. For the majority of products we stock, which are artisan produced items, we would never have been able to use the Fairtrade logo anyway, so it's a moot point. For the products which DO qualify for the logo - coffee, chocolate, etc - we would always prefer to stick with Fairtrade products rather than water down our selection to include Rainforest Alliance or other brands, no matter how laudable they might be. Part of it has to be about a message, and recognisable symbols can be a good tool to do that.
What does it all mean for the consumer? Well, confusion for a start. If you shop in Sainsbury's or Tesco you'll now have to do your own research on their replacement system to see if it matches up to Fairtrade in your eyes. For us, transparency has always been the key - and we hope by telling you more about the amazing people who produce the beautiful products we sell, we can continue to persuade you that it is worth supporting them.