Fair trade, more important than you think

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Yarn and weaving machine

Fair fashion is getting more and more attention, also during this Fair Trade Week. © TDC

From 7 to 17 October 2020, the Trade for Development Centre (TDC, see box below) will once again be organising the Fair Trade Week. Fair Trade will be in the spotlight for 10 days.

In these coronavirus times, you can expect a series of online activities, but certainly also physical events. For example, the annual fair and sustainable clothing festival in Mechelen will be digital. But the Fair Fashion Walk in Bruges will continue to be physically. In the province of Luxembourg, there is normally a theatre play about fair trade and ecological challenges in various fair trade municipalities. For all the recent information, please visit the site.

On the rise

Fair trade is on the rise. In May 2020, the NGO Fairtrade Belgium – which awards the 'Fairtrade' label, see box – brought some good news: Belgians spent a record amount on Fairtrade labelled products in 2019. The volume of bananas, coffee and cocoa increased by 41% compared to 2018. This represented a turnover of 220 million euros. Today, one in four bananas in Belgium carries a Fairtrade label. On average, a Belgian consumes 19.2 euros of Fairtrade products per year.

Companies and supermarkets are also making more and more fair products available on store shelves. For example, a remarkable player is Aldi. With a market share of 16%, this hard discounter became the largest retailer of Fairtrade products in 2018. In fact, many buyers find their Fairtrade products mainly in supermarkets, far more so than in specialised shops such as Oxfam world shops.

Man shopping in supermarket with fairt rade tote bag

Many buyers find their Fairtrade products mainly in supermarkets. © Fairtrade Belgium

What many Belgians probably don't realise yet is that the offering has become much wider. Fairtrade really has now become far more than just bananas, coffee and chocolate. These include cosmetics, sneakers, fair & slow fashion, smartphones, gold, tourist destinations, wood, aromatic and medicinal plants, handicrafts and other food products such as tea, oil, fruit, vegetables and nuts.

Although fair trade originally aimed to help producers in the South, there is a growing interest in fair trade in Belgium and Europe. For example, the solidarity brand Fairebel offers milk at a fair price benefiting 500 Belgian farmers.

Fairebel milk

Also in Belgium there is room for fair trade such as Fairebel's fair milk. © TDC

Others are doing better

Nevertheless, with 19.2 euros of Fairtrade products per year, Belgians are doing far less well than the Germans (24.55 euros), Luxembourgers (35.60 euros), Austrians (39.44 euros) and Swedes (40.89 euros). European stars are the Finns (54.76 euros), the Irish (79.55 euros) and especially the Swiss, with 85.44 euros per capita. But Belgians are still doing better than the Italians (5.3 euros) and the French (13.45 euros).

So we still have a lot of work ahead of us to make Belgium a real ‘Country of Fair Trade’. TDC linked a number of conditions to this, such as ‘51% of Belgian municipalities are Fair Trade Municipalities’ and ‘more than half of the provinces are Fair Trade Provinces’. We haven't got that far yet: Last year, for example, the Fair Trade Municipalities counter still stood at 42%. It goes without saying that a world with 100% fair trade remains a distant dream.

Women collecting argan nuts

Thanks to fair trade, these Moroccan women get a fair wage from the processing of argan nuts. © TDC

More important than you think

But why is fair trade so important? Because fair trade aims to guarantee a living income for the producer. All too often, it is the small producers at the beginning of the chain who live below the poverty line and suffer from hunger. They have insufficient means of production and too little room for negotiation, and/or are unable to sell their goods properly. As a result, they have to content themselves with an unfairly low price.

This is why the TDC coaches them in marketing techniques and business management. And thanks to the Fairtrade label, the farmers concerned not only receive the guaranteed minimum price, but also receive a premium on top of it. For example, in 2019 the Belgian market generated 3.6 million euros in Fairtrade premiums.

But fair trade also aims to protect the environment and safeguard social rights. For example, it strives for products that are free of child labour. It is also no coincidence that, at present, 52% of the Fairtrade food products bear an organic label.

In short, thanks to fair trade, producers can live a decent life and become more resilient to setbacks such as unfavourable weather and disease. A liveable income will also reduce the incentive for young people to migrate. And thanks to the attention paid to a healthy environment, natural resources are less likely to be exhausted. Because children no longer have to work, they can go to school and thus lay the foundations for a bright future. Fair trade is therefore an important tool for achieving the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Fair Trade Week

This is why the TDC and the Belgian fair trade organisations (Oxfam, Fairtrade Belgium, Miel Maya Honing, Fair Trade Municipalities, etc.) continue to work relentlessly towards a fair world. Step by step, we are approaching the final goal. This also includes the Belgian government's initiative Beyond Chocolate, which aims to make all Belgian chocolate sustainable by 2025 and give cocoa farmers a living income by 2030. Similar initiatives are underway.

But for now, there is the Fair Trade Week, the time to make consumers, governments and businesses more aware of the many benefits of fully fledged fair trade. By the way, price doesn't always have to be an obstacle. Due to the growth of popular Fairtrade products such as bananas, chocolate and coffee, these are not necessarily more expensive than their competitors.

Trade for Development Centre and Fairtrade Belgium

The Trade for Development Centre is a programme from the Belgian development agency Enabel and from the overall Belgian Development Co-operation. Objective: to promote and support fair and sustainable trade. To this end, TDC coaches producer groups and SMEs in the South in marketing and business management in order to provide them with better market access. In Belgium, it launches campaigns to inform and raise awareness among consumers, authorities and businesses, with Fair Trade Week as its peak.

The NGO Fairtrade Belgium – a partner of the Belgian Development Co-operation – is part of the Fairtrade International network. Through the Fairtrade label, it aims to offer farmers and workers in the supply chains a living income. Mankind and planet are standing central.