Fairtrade products buying guide

Buying Fairtrade products is a way to make your buying decisions improve the lives of small producers in developing countries.
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  • Updated:27 Aug 2007

01 .Fairtrade products

In brief

  • Fairtrade logoFairtrade aims to improve the lives of small producers in developing nations by paying farmers a fair price for their work.
  • Fairtrade-labelled products such as coffee, tea and chocolates are available in supermarkets at competitive prices.

The term Fairtrade has been floating around consumer consciousness for the last five to 10 years. While you may have heard of Fairtrade goods such as coffee and chocolate, you perhaps assume they’re still niche products only available in ‘alternative’ shops and websites.

Fairtrade is also a concept that’s often confused with organic and other premium-price produce. In fact many supermarkets now sell Fairtrade products, and they’re not always more expensive than their standard equivalents.

So what are Fairtrade products, and what’s it all about?

The principles of Fairtrade

What sets Fairtrade apart is its overriding aim to improve the lives of small producers in developing nations by guaranteeing income security and shortening the supply chains. The idea is that when you buy fairly traded tea or coffee, for example, the financial benefits won’t be pocketed only by retail giants or major producers.

According to non-profit organisation Oxfam, Fairtrade is about “giving third-world farmers and workers a fair go by paying the producers a fair price for their work”. It involves a labelling system that guarantees Fairtrade standards are met at every stage of the production, and ensures that the premium generated from the products will go back to the farmers and their communities.

Please note: this information was current as of August 2007 but is still a useful guide today.


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02.Chocolate and coffee


Bitter reality

harvesting coffee beansThe coffee trade provides a living for more than 20 million farmers in developing countries. Coffee is the second most valuable commodity in world trade after crude oil. Sadly, under a free market, many producers have little to no access to price information or direct contact with their buyers. This leaves countless farmers vulnerable to exploitation and world price fluctuations.

A 2002 report from the Fairtrade Foundation found that coffee beans can change hands as many as 150 times by the time they reach consumers on the shelves. Each time the beans go through a middleman, a proportion of the return is absorbed. For every $2.50 cup of coffee you buy, the farmer will earn as little as three cents.

When world prices fall, growers lose a large portion of their income, even though there may not be a matching reduction in supermarket prices of coffee.

Fairtrade helps by setting a base price for coffee beans, to ensure disadvantaged farmers still receive a minimum guaranteed price for their work . If the market price goes above the guaranteed minimum, the producer receives the higher of the two, maintaining the incentive for farmers to remain competitive in the quality of their produce. 

Child labour and cocoa

The poor conditions faced by producers in the developing world aren’t limited to the coffee industry. Every time you bite into a piece of chocolate, chances are you’re at the consumption end of child labour.

The Fair Trade Association of Australia and New Zealand (FTAANZ) reported on their website that as many as 284,000 children in West Africa are working under dangerous conditions on cocoa farms, with many subjected to forced labour and exposed to harmful pesticides and chemicals on a daily basis. At the end of the day, each member of a cocoa farming family may earn as little as US$30 per year.

03.What's out there?


Fairtrade products

Most supermarkets now stock a range of Fairtrade-labelled coffee, tea and chocolate products, making it easier to make the switch to socially responsible purchases.

Popular Fairtrade coffee brands such as Republica and Scarborough Fair are available in most Coles and Woolworths and some IGA supermarkets. In addition, Coles has its own home-brand Fairtrade labels: Coles Finest Ethiopian and Coles Finest Signature Blend.

Online shops such as Tradewinds Tea Coffee, Tribes and Nations and the Oxfam Shop offer a comprehensive list of products that are Fairtrade-certified. Instant coffees are sold at around $5/100g and chocolates from $5.50/100g. The online stores also offer bulk-buy options for workplaces and schools.

You can also purchase home brand Fairtrade coffee at a slightly cheaper price. For example, Coles Finest fair-trade ground coffee is sold at $4.36/100g. As for coffee bought from baristas, Sydney’s Fair Trade Coffee Company claims its Fairtrade brew is only dearer by about three cents a cup compared to non-Fairtrade coffee — a cost that’s absorbed by the company itself.

Besides coffee, tea and chocolates, garments made from Fairtrade-certified cotton have also become available in Australia and New Zealand since mid 2006. 

Search online for Natural Fashion, Hug and Organic Embrace certified organic cotton clothing.

For those with toddlers, Nature Spot in New Zealand sells 100% organic and Fairtrade-certified babywear online. It guarantees that no harmful chemicals or pesticides are used in the entire growing and manufacturing process. For more details or to order these products, visit www.naturespot.co.nz.

You also can buy ‘Make trade fair’ T-shirts from Oxfam shops from $25 to show your support for Fairtrade.

04.Power to the consumer


How else can I help?

man in a cafeFrom dressing your toddler in Fairtrade cottonwear to catching up with friends over cappuccino in a Fairtrade café, there are many things you can do to support the growing desire to give disadvantaged producers a fair go.

One of the ideas suggested by the Fair Trade Association of Australia and New Zealand (FTAANZ) is to organise Fair Trade Communities at work, in schools or in churches. Participants work with FTAANZ to meet a set of corporate and social goals and to raise awareness of fair trade in the particular community. An example would be introducing Fairtrade coffee in your workplace or holding a Fairtrade fete at a church fundraising.

You can also lend your support by participating in awareness campaigns during Fairtrade fortnight each year in May.

Growing support

Fairtrade pamphletsThe good news is that many Australians have shown support for Fairtrade since FTAANZ was established in 2003. The sales for Fairtrade-labelled products skyrocketed to $6.8 million in 2006, with the total tipped to reach over 10 million by the end of this calendar year. The number of licensees also grew from six to 70 over the period of three years.

Coffee is the major driver behind the growth, accounting for 75% of the sales, followed by chocolate, tea and sports balls.

Fairtrade controversy

In April 2007, two Melbourne academics accused Oxfam Australia of misleading the public by claiming Fairtrade coffee helped alleviate poverty for farmers in the developing world.

The pair lodged a formal complaint to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), referring to alleged reports that Peruvian coffee workers were paid less than the minimum wage required under Fairtrade requirements, and thus didn’t qualify to be labelled as Fairtrade. The ACCC dismissed the claim, concluding the allegation relied on evidence which “may be subject to different interpretations”.

In response to media coverage at the time, the Chairperson of Fairtrade Labelling Australia and New Zealand, Diana Gibson, said in a public statement that while breaches of standards are minimal, they’re more likely to occur where farmers can only sell part of their crops through the Fairtrade system (often only between 10 and 15%) and are left to rely on the free market to sell the rest.

FTAANZ executive officer Neil Bowker told CHOICE that the situation has been investigated and rectified since the incident.