What does the Fairtrade Mark mean?

fairtrade logo

We’ve all seen that distinctive logo adorn dozens of products in our supermarkets.

Whether it be coffee, bananas or chocolate, it seems like everyday there are more and more items on the shelves with that blue, black and green sign on them.

But what does the Fairtrade Mark actually mean and why should you care?

Fair means fair

The fact is, in our busy lifestyles, we often prioritise price over ethics, but this is made even harder by the opaque nature of food supply.

But keeping an eye out for this has been made much easier by the Fairtrade Mark, which denotes a product that passes on profits to those that created them.

Fair trade has a long and storied history in the UK, with a number of large companies like the Cooperative supermarket, as well as foundations like Oxfam, popularising it and making it more popular among the public.

It was originally intended to help farmers in third world countries like Ethiopia and Rwanda to get their economies recovering from financial difficulties, but has since become a way to encourage better business practices among richer western companies.

Fair trade essentially allows farmers to get a larger share of the profits from their goods than would normally be allowed and – contrary to popular myth – does not mean any difference in the quality of the product.

Mass production

But while previously fair trade was a cottage industry that only employed a small number of people in impoverished countries – this simply isn’t the case anymore.

Mass production has changed the way that fair trade works and now entire factories are springing up to produce a wide range of items for our store shelves.

Fair trade, quite simply, isn’t as it once was, limited to the traditional staple of products like nuts, sugar, bananas and tea. Newer goods to hit our shelves include washing-up liquid, soap, jewellery and even beer (yum!).

This has secured the Fairtrade Mark a place in even the most luxurious supermarkets, with the foundation’s logo seen as a sign of quality amidst a crowded market.

Changing the face of a continent

It will come as no secret to anyone that Africa has struggled to maintain the economic growth predicted in the post-colonial days. Famine, war and disease have struck across the continent – but things are starting to change.

Fair trade has helped thousands of small businesses to prosper in countries across Africa, as campaigner Lucy Walker found on a recent trip to the region.

“The fair trade premium had made a huge difference to farmers’ lives, helping provide schools for their children, a support structure enabling them to promote workers and child rights and the right to a sanitary, safe, preserved environment, as well as providing a higher, more secure, income,” she explained.

Consumer habits

But despite the clear benefits of fair trade for farmers across Africa, some supermarkets are failing to keep up with consumer demand for these products.

That’s why a range of new online superstores have filled this gap by providing fair trade products at low prices, whilst still keeping true to the fair trade tradition of putting farmers first.

Indeed, the lower running costs of web-based supermarkets like the Ethical Superstore have allowed for even greater profits to be passed on to poverty-stricken regions of the world – something to keep in mind while you drink down that lovely (ethical!) pint!

Cheers to that!

Disclosure: This is a partnered guest post.


  1. March 22, 2014 / 8:05 AM

    I don’t think any ethical issue is simple. Take the example of sugar; I heard once about a retailer refusing to stock British sugar because it’s not fair-trade but the majority of fair trade products are exported a long way so instead of stocking something which had a lower environmental impact, they stocked something with a big carbon footprint but ethically produced for the farmers (even though the way British sugar is produced has no ethical issues).

    I think as a result, consumers get confused about what they *should* buy and what all these terms mean. Ethical is such a wide scope.

  2. March 22, 2014 / 10:45 PM

    A good reminder. I tend to focus a lot on price a lot, I’m sure as many people do.

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