October marks the 10th annual Fair Trade Month highlighting the need for individuals, companies and brands to take care of our planet and all of its inhabitants. Throughout the month, ethically minded consumers, retailers and brands will unite to emphasize the need not only to buy fair, but also to be fair. Stay tuned throughout the month as Eco News Network profiles some of those we feel are raising the bar in Fair Trade, ethical consumerism, and sustainability.
Fairness is something we all value as we go through our daily lives, but how about when we purchase products and services? As ethical consumers, we have the opportunity to choose the companies we support with product our hard-earned money.
What’s important to remember is that there’s a difference between an ethical product and an ethical company. And, not all companies that operate on a sustainability business platform are involved in Fair Trade. This may all seem confusing, but you can really think of it in a very simple way. It’s less about the labels than it is about knowing the companies you buy from and understanding how they run their business, how they source their products, where the products are manufactured, and what their policies are toward the people that work for them at home and in developing countries.
So what is Fair Trade?
The Fair Trade approach to business aims to provide equity in the international trading system by supporting farmers and craftspeople in developing countries that are socially and economically marginalized and therefore lack economic opportunity. They may also be challenged to find markets and customers for what they produce. Fair Trade advocates a relationship between buyers, manufacturers, and sellers based on transparency and equitable business dealings including just compensation.
From its initial focus on coffee, Certified Fair Trade products now include clothing, food, furniture, housewares, jewelry, tea, toys, and handcrafts from developing areas of the globe. Paying factory workers and farmers a fair wage is part of the fair trade promise and some companies even pay a higher price for goods and services to elevate the living standard of those they rely on for product production and to raise the bar regarding environmental and social standards. Fair Trade certification also considers what types of ingredients a business uses, transportation methods, and measures a company takes to give back to the community and environment.
But not all companies and products can be evaluated on the basis of Fair Trade due to what they produce, the market they’re in, or their business platform. There are additional factors you can use to make purchasing decisions such as carbon footprint, local sourcing and manufacturing, sustainable facilities and business practices, and a corporate responsibility platform if you are acting as an Ethical Consumer.
How about Ethical Consumerism?
Defined by Muncy and Vitell ethical consumerism is “the moral principles and standards that guide behavior of individuals or groups as they obtain, use, and dispose of goods and services.” Some companies may produce products that are environmentally friendly, but they may not adhere to ethical practices regarding manufacturing or materials sourcing. For example, they might not pay a fair wage to their workers or they may use animals for product testing or the waste byproducts of their manufacturing may be harmful to the environment.
Many believe that the future of ethical consumption lies in being able to get information on the items we are considering buying instantly to be informed not only about the product benefits but the practices of the company behind the product. And there are apps and websites for that! GoodGuide, is a mobile website that says you can “Shop your values. Anytime. Anywhere. For free!” and that allows you to scan a product’s bar code and access health, environmental, and social performance ratings for more than 120,000 products.
Interested in your own carbon footprint? The Carbon Emissions Calculator from The Nature Conservancy that enables travelers to rate their personal carbon footprint.
And, at Practically Green, you can sign up as an individual or a company and track your own ecoconscious footprint through the day as well as finding information on companies that focus on sustainable best practice.
Want to check out companies before you head to the store? You can find information on a lot of companies and products before you go to the store on websites dedicated to reviewing and rating companies for us. We’ve noted some links below that might help you on your quest to buy from Fair Trade companies and to become an ethical consumer. You can even create your own platform on which you personally evaluate companies and their sustainability.
Stay tuned to Eco News Network throughout the month of October to check out our picks for brands and companies that are adhering to a higher standard. Got suggestions? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your favorite fair trade companies.
Photo credits: Wikimedia Commons, Baskets of Africa via Fair Trade Federation, Good Guide