I did the following guest blog post for the Fair Trade Futures conference – the largest fair trade event in North America. Find out more about them here.

Fair trade is losing its power as a brand and a label. Why is that?

Fair trade has become so strong in the western world, particularly when we think about coffee, that cafés that do not use fair trade beans, are losing business. This means they need to do one of two things: (1) buy fair trade beans and become a fair trade organisation, or (2) create their own ethical label and grab some customers back. Many are taking option (2) because it is cheaper and more personal to the customer.


A friend of mine owns his own café, and does just that. He can tell me how much he paid for the coffee, who produced it, the working conditions and progress in the community. Find out more by looking at the comments here. This adds a lot of value to the customer, which (at this stage) fair trade cannot.

This is not a BAD thing! Why? Because the producer is better off (and wins when the café wins), the customer feels closer to their coffee (they know more than the fair trade system could ever tell them), and ethical consumption is better off overall.

So fair trade is losing its power, but ethical consumption is up, and the public recognises it more-and-more. This is great news for people in poverty everywhere, and for the fair trade movement.

So what was fair trade’s purpose? Fair trade was the stepping stone to point us in the right direction. Fair trade brought attention to the issue. Fair trade made the people aware of the problem. Fair trade was a movement, because of a belief.

People are the driving force behind ethical consumption. Fair trade will end one-day, but that day will be the day when we no longer need fair trade. That day will be the day that every company produces and manufactures ethically and fairly. That will be the day to rejoice, because we have succeeded in changing the world – for the better of billions of people who were suffering.

That day may be far away. One thing that will bring it closer is if people talk about fair trade more, consume fair trade more, and invest in fair trade. All these things will accelerate us toward that goal. Social networks, like Facebook and Twitter play a huge role, you can read more about that on the next post.

About the author: Justin is co-founder and CEO of Vital Link Group, a company giving people the power to be part of the movement. To find out more about Vital Link, follow @vitallinkgroup and @justinvitallink or become a fan on Facebook.

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