Skip to main content

COVID-19: Why fairtrade is more important than ever

Ruth Strange argues that in these uncertain times, fair trade has become more important than ever.

When COVID-19 hit, Fairtrade organisations responded with speed, “Producer organizations quickly mobilized themselves to support their members and communities, like coffee producers in Colombia distributing food and hygiene packages to the elderly in their community, Brazilians helping to sanitize their cities, or Belizeans delivering masks”, said Xiomara Parades, Executive Director of the Fairtrade Producer Network in Latin America and the Caribbean.

National Fairtrade organizations have now established a “Fairtrade Producer Relief Fund” and a “Fairtrade Producer Resilience Fund” to meet immediate needs and build towards longer-term economic recovery efforts. They are looking for additional contributions from retailers, businesses, non-governmental organizations, and government agencies.

Pauline Tiffen, the editor of the Journal of Fair Trade, and co-founder of the first Fairtrade coffee company Cafe Direct almost 30 years ago, thinks fair trade captures the very values that have been so important in this crisis, from fair-mindedness, to social solidarity, concern and respect. In the annual Fair Trade Nation lecture to the Scottish Fair Trade Forum in May 2020, she spoke about how the fair trade movement with its links across churches, schools, businesses, social movements and universities, could seize the moment to create a strong and broad collective message about the changes we need to see in this determining moment in our economies.

Many people are having a moment of clarity, she said, seeing what happens when a company doesn’t pay its workers enough, or pay enough tax. If a company doesn't support those in its supply chain, necessary work might go unpaid, or not be done – such as PPE, safety measures, or overtime pay.

She went on to argue that as governments bail out businesses, we need to demand these companies have transparency in supply chains, pay living wages, work towards more participatory ownership and governance, and see genuine support for their suppliers as part of the cost of the goods, not an optional add-on.

“As economies shrink, we need to find a way that every purchase helps to leverage some kind of fundamental change, or some provision of something that is basically needed... I firmly believe that this terrible, terrible experience will show that Fair Traders are the real market leaders and deserve every drop of support and a new recognition of value.”

All of the companies in our guide to ethical online retailers have at least some fair trade products, from food, to clothes, bedding, jewellery and crafts, but Traidcraft, Shared Earth and the Sourced by Oxfam range are particularly focused on fair trade principles.

Find out more about the benefits of using ethical online retailers and find out who has the best supply chain policies by having a read of our handy guide.

Free Issue

Sign up now to our email newsletter for a free digital copy of Ethical Consumer magazine.

Sign up now for our email newsletter