How Does Fairtrade Help the Environment?
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While grocery shopping, you might assume a bag of Fairtrade coffee automatically means organic. However, the terms are not synonymous. Of course, now you’re probably wondering if Fairtrade helps the environment or not.
Eco-conscious consumers should still seek Fairtrade products, as these brands abide by strict sustainability standards. However, there are differences in the types of Fairtrade logos you come by.
Let’s look at what Fairtrade means, how companies earn certification, and ways Fairtrade farmers help the planet.
5 Ways Fairtrade Helps the Environment
While Fairtrade may mean something different than organic, certified producers and traders still support efforts to protect the environment. Here are five ways Fairtrade farmers make a difference.
1. Offers the Fairtrade Climate Standard
Fairtrade International and its independent auditor, FLOCERT, offer the Fairtrade Climate Standard as an add–on to the Gold Standard accreditation. The Climate Standard helps small-scale producers enter the carbon market by issuing Fairtrade Carbon Credits.
Through this standard, participants can be part of decision-making processes, invest in climate resilience in their communities, develop their climate change expertise and management strategies, and reduce carbon emissions.
2. Support Small-Scale Farmers
Small-scale farmers make up 81% of the 2 million producers Fairtrade International works with.
Studies have shown a 13.6% positive effect on total consumption expenditures for low-income Fairtrade participants. This includes basic living expenses for housing, clothing, education, transportation, and health. From a social perspective, Fairtrade is a viable intervention for poor households.
3. Promotes Reforestation Projects
Reforestation projects are popular among Fairtrade cooperatives, with many producers investing their Fairtrade Premiums in tree planting and soil management. Replenishing ecosystems has trickling benefits for biodiversity and carbon sequestration.
In 2021, Fairtrade International launched an initiative with Grow Ahead to support targeted agroforestry projects. Grow Ahead is fundraising a project for Ghana-based Fairtrade cacao producer Kuapa Kokoo to plant 150,000 timber trees and 30,000 fruit trees over 11,942 acres. Nearly 2,075 farms will participate in the initiative.
4. Helps Conserve Water and Soil
Fairtrade prohibits its producers from using toxic chemicals and encourages integrative pest management to reduce the use of synthetic pesticides. Many cooperatives have also invested their Fairtrade Premiums in water conservation — all of which helps manage healthy soils, waterways and fragile ecosystems.
According to the Soil Association, 4% to 55% of Fairtrade farmers transition to organic agricultural practices. Fairtrade International helps them do this by offering education and training on sustainable farming. Likewise, producers are restricted from using genetically modified organisms.
Fairtrade International also requires farmers to decrease excessive irrigation to conserve water. COOCAFE cooperative in Costa Rica applied some of their Fairtrade Premium to a new water treatment system. Since its installation, they have reduced water consumption from 3,000 liters per 225 kilograms of coffee to 200 liters.
5. Provides Climate Adaptation Training
Fairtrade helps the environment by providing comprehensive climate adaptation training and education to its participating producers. Nearly 8,500 Kenyan coffee producers participate in the Fairtrade Climate Academy to learn more about soil management and drought-resistant crops.
Approximately 50% of the world’s coffee farmlands may disappear by 2050, increasing pressure on growers. Experts also anticipate severe climate impacts for Fairtrade tea, spice, and cacao farmers throughout Africa and India.
To increase accessibility to Fairtrade’s Climate Academy, the organization has uploaded critical lessons on its YouTube channels in five languages, reaching nearly 750,000 producers.
Fairtrade vs. Fair Trade: What’s the Difference?
There’s a common misconception about “Fairtrade” and “Fair Trade.” Like organic, the two terms do not mean the same thing.
Fair Trade is a generic term describing ethical trade or products. Companies do not undergo independent auditing to meet stringent economic, social, and environmental standards — meaning anyone can claim to be Fair Trade.
Conversely, Fairtrade — one word — only applies to companies or individuals that have received certification by Fairtrade International. Fairtrade International works with 2 million farmers in 80 countries, while FLOCERT verifies its participants.
Popular brands like Aldi, Endangered Species Chocolate, Ben & Jerry’s, Nature’s Path, Lily’s, and Starbucks have all achieved Fairtrade certification.
Consumers run the risk of false promises when a company simply claims fair trade. However, while you can only be sure of a Fairtrade accreditation by its logo, you shouldn’t merely decry Fair Trade promises.
Fairtrade is a difficult certification to attain. Many producers and traders follow ethical sourcing, production, and trade with underprivileged people as they work toward accreditation. If you’re unsure, always do your research.
What Does Fairtrade Do for Producers?
Since producers account for half of Fairtrade International, they play a significant role in decision-making. Fairtrade helps producers in the following ways:
- Sets a minimum price on commodities to ensure financial stability in volatile markets.
- Delivers Fairtrade Premiums for members to invest in their commerce and communities.
- Advocates for more sustainable production and consumerism in developing countries.
- Requires producers to establish democratic cooperatives and worker organizations.
- Provides licensing to support producers and their services directly.
Fairtrade accreditation works for producers — for example, tea farmers in Malawi were able to invest in 12 schools with Fairtrade Premiums, ensuring local children’s futures.
Compliance Criteria for Fairtrade Certification
Producers and traders are eligible for Fairtrade certification, which lasts three years before recertification to ensure ongoing compliance. Producers include individual farmers or farm organizations, whereas traders are the companies that distribute the Fairtrade goods.
FLOCERT determines whether candidates are eligible for accreditation, ensuring all applicants adhere to the strict economic, social, and environmental criteria.
The certification process differs for producers and traders. FLOCERT will audit producers in person, reviewing the production site and labor practices. On the other hand, traders will be allowed to trade for nine months, at which time FLOCERT will investigate how well they comply with the rules.
Support Fairtrade Producers and the Environment
Fairtrade producers and traders do their part to protect the environment. As consumers, we must also do ours. Look for the Fairtrade International logo on products before purchasing them — and if you’re unsure, ask. Your support for Fairtrade ensures the movement flourishes.
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About the author
Starting from an early age, Jane Marsh loved all animals and became a budding environmentalist. Now, Jane works as the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co where she covers topics related to climate policy, renewable energy, the food industry, and more.