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The Tried-and-tested Guide to Fairtrade Shopping

Ahead of Fairtrade Fortnight from 24th February to 8th March, Jo Gould investigates how easy it is to solely purchase ethical products

The Tried-and-tested Guide to Fairtrade Shopping
Since launching in 1994, the iconic Fairtrade mark has appeared on over 6,000 products in the UK. From its core tea, coffee, sugar and chocolate products, today Fairtrade is the most recognised ethical label, covering everything from gold jewellery to footballs.

While it’s the most recognisable, the Fairtrade Foundation isn’t the only certification, as ethical options continue to grow. By choosing fairly traded products, we can help make a difference to some of the world’s poorest people by ensuring that the farmers and workers producing the goods haven’t been exploited. So, as ethical spending hits record highs, I wondered: could I spend a week only buying fairly traded items? From scouring supermarket aisles for those handy Fairtrade stickers, to avoiding fast fashion, shunning untraceable coffee, and getting stuck into some serious research, I was willing to try…

Supermarket Sweep
We’ve all seen the Fairtrade stickers on bananas – in fact, one in three bananas bought in the UK are fairly traded – so that was a no-brainer when I hit the supermarket; I was also pleased to find Fairtrade pineapples. Happily, both were only fractionally more expensive than their non-Fairtrade counterparts. Stocking up on store cupboard staples proved trickier: I cook a lot of Indian food, but after researching, I discovered how vulnerable a lot of spice farmers are. With frequent harvest failures, price fixing, and market crashes rife, black pepper farming is one of the most exploitative. However, searching out Fairtrade peppercorns and common spices like turmeric, ginger, cinnamon and cardamom was quite easy in the supermarket (and easier still online); try Bart or Steenbergs for high-quality, responsibly-sourced spicing next time you’re knocking up a curry – and watch out for coconut milk, too. I also picked up a bunch of beautiful yellow Fairtrade roses to brighten up my living room – while over half of the UK’s cut flowers come from the Netherlands, others are sourced from Kenya, Ethiopia and Ecuador, where poor working conditions and low pay are a huge problem, so be sure to check where your blooms have come from.

Sweet Treats
Long, dark winter nights called for a sweet treat and a glass or two of wine in front of the telly. Luckily, chocolate is one of the biggest sectors of the Fairtrade initiative, and various brands comply, meaning that workers can claim a fair return for hacking away at cocoa pods in the hot sun. I grabbed a bar of Divine’s delicious Toffee and Sea Salt Milk Chocolate, knowing that Divine is not only Fairtrade, but is actually owned by cocoa farmers in Ghana, so they see more of the profit. Tony’s Chocolonely is another brand doing great things in the sector: it pays a higher price on top of the Fairtrade premium, and allows cocoa farmers in West Africa to earn a properly decent standard of living. I’ve never considered wine to be a problematic purchase, but the Fairtrade Foundation website informed me that the legacy of apartheid in South Africa, and low market prices in South America, mean that wine producers in these regions are under huge economic pressures. Lots of supermarkets have a selection of Fairtrade-stamped wines, so I was relieved to find that two of my favourite bottles – Journey’s End Honeycomb Chardonnay (£8, M&S) and the incredibly juicy Bluegum Merlot (£13.35, Sainsbury’s) – are from a Fairtrade farm in Stellenbosch, South Africa, where profits are ploughed back into the community via building projects, rewilding and soup kitchens. These bottles do not carry the Fairtrade logo, which goes to show it’s worth doing your research!

Cottoning on to Ethical Fashion
The January sales usually draw me in like a moth to a flame, but this year, it’s a different story. Cotton workers can be the most vulnerable to exploitation, so to ensure my wardrobe meets ethical environmental, labour and development standards, I knew it was important to seek out Fairtrade-certified cotton instead of heading blindly to the high street. People Tree is probably the best known Fairtrade fashion brand, though it’s not cheap. I guess the key is to buy less and buy better, like so many things in life. Luckily, I discovered People Tree on ASOS with various sale items including a classic black jumpsuit and a cute bunny-print top: both half-price!

Cosmetics with a Conscience
Make-up is another one of my weaknesses, and with lots of cosmetic products using risky ingredients like shea butter, coconut oil and jojoba, it makes sense to check you know how yours have been produced. There are brilliant resources for this, with sites like Feel Unique letting you filter to view Fairtrade-only items – brands like Dr Hauschka and Dr Bronner's have me covered for most make-up and toiletries, even down to toothpaste. Interestingly, Lush is not Fairtrade-certified, as the brand says certification isn’t always doable for its suppliers, citing cost barriers and the fact that many ingredients are sourced from countries that Fairtrade doesn’t cover. They do, however, work hard to choose responsible and sustainable companies to buy fully-traceable products and ingredients from directly.

Home Sweet Home
Though most of us are referring to the Fairtrade Foundation when we talk about fair trade, Traidcraft claims to be the original pioneers of the movement, and has been working to provide growers around the world with a fair and sustainable living since 1979. Today, its site offers a wealth of fairly traded goods from homewares and laundry products, to food and drink, socks and gift cards. Ethical Superstore is another brilliant resource for cleaning products and utility items. What if you can’t find a Fairtrade item? I asked a Fairtrade Foundation spokesperson just that: “When a consumer can’t find a product that is Fairtrade, the best thing to do is to put pressure on the business to source it. Our grassroots movement has shown that with enough pressure, companies do respond and source more Fairtrade goods, which helps strengthen and improve the sustainability of their supply chains.

“Fairtrade has pioneered and transformed the landscape of ethical consumerism, and today we have thousands of activists, faith groups, schools and businesses who back our campaigns for trade justice for farmers and workers in developing countries. We continue to believe that everyone deserves to be fairly compensated for their work.” And so do I – which is why I’ll continue to spend that fraction more at the supermarket, ensure that I know where my morning coffee has come from, and really look at my future fashion and cosmetics purchases. Fair’s fair, after all.