Fairtrade Fortnight 2015

23 Feb to 8 Mar

Chocolate Paradise
Fair Play to You
Save The Orangutan
Organic Stuffed
Bins Busted

Fairtrade fortnight occurs annually here in the UK. You may have something similar where you live perhaps for a day or week at some other time of the year. My guess is that you either think fairtrade is a good idea (it stops child labour and gives workers a fair wage) or you think that the cost of fair trade goods to the consumer is disproportionally high compared to non-fairly traded products with most of the difference going to companies nearer the consumer end of the supply chain (the manufacturers and retailers) instead of to the people it is intended to reach (the people growing the ingredients) or that it hinders a free-trade economy and in the worst case scenario actually gives people a lower price for ingredients when market prices fluctuate.

For me, the free-trade argument doesn't work as there are so many subsidies and other financial distortions across all producing countries to pick on that reason alone not to purchase fair trade is unfounded. I think the disproportional retail price argument is valid.

The thing is not all fairly traded products are equal. There are other world changing criteria too.

How to choose between similar fair trade products?

There are differences between the three main types of "fair trade" products we get here in the UK (Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance and a relative newcomer to the UK - UTZ certified). I will let you research the differences for yourself as part of the CHOCOLATE PARADISE quest.

It's important to understand the differences between the labels. However when it comes to choosing between similar products, for example milk chocolate bars, there are other criteria that I think are important too.  While an emphasis on fair trade for a fortnight is a great idea to get that discussion started let's not forget there are other factors in determining whether a product is more or less world changing than another.

Here are a few of the things that quickly go through my mind when choosing something that I would purchase as a luxury item - like chocolate (although I could argue that it's a necessity). BTW There are quests for each of the following questions.

What percentage of the ingredients are actually fair trade?

You usually have to turn the packet round to read the small print on the back to find out this one. You'll find the percentage of fairly traded ingredients just underneath the ingredients list for FairTrade certified products. To certify as FairTrade all the ingredients that can be FairTrade must be used (although it seems they are just about to dilute this very clear message by allowing a new Fairtrade logo to be used when just one or more of the ingredients are FairTrade certified - guardian article). For Rainforest Alliance and UTZ products the logo can be used on the packaging if only one (or more) of the products are certified under that scheme which can, as we will see, lead to a very small percentage of fairly traded ingredients in a product.

Is it Palm oil free?

This is a big one for me at the moment. I just can't bear the idea that we are knowingly exterminating these beautiful animals by destroying their habitat. So I always check for palm oil in the ingredients list (yes you have to turn the packet over and read the ingredients list on the back). Unfortunately palm oil can be listed as "vegetable fat". If you are lucky it will be "vegetable fat (a list of the types of vegetable fats, eg rapeseed, palm, shea)". For me, if it says "vegetable fat" I assume the worst - better to be safe than sorry. Whether a company is part of the roundtable on sustainable palm oil I don't take into consideration for reasons mentioned here.

What percentage of ingredients are organic?

If it's got organic ingredients in it will be obvious on the front of the packaging, however to find out the percentage of organic ingredients you need to, yes you guessed it, read the ingredients on the back to work out or approximate the percentage.

What is the packaging made from and how can I dispose of it (landfill bin or recycling)?

For the purpose of this article I have split this into two parts; 1) Is the packaging made from sustainable/recycled materials. 2) How do I dispose of the packaging - do I have to put it in the landfill bin (fail) or can I recycle/compost it.

Has a boycott been called for against the company?

For this I turn to independent sources of information like Ethical Consumer's boycott list. I haven't memorised the full list so for the purpose of this article I have checked to see if the companies (or their parent companies) that make the products (below) are on it or not. If they are on the list they get 0, if they are not on the list they get 100 points.

How much does it cost?

Of course this is a factor, but for a luxury item that I don't purchase regularly it's not the thing that will most influence me (unless of course it is either an absolute bargain or unrealistically expensive). If the product passes most of the tests above, my decision will be swayed by cost, personal bias/weighting of the criteria and whether or not I like the taste.

Other factors

For other products I might also consider, the nutritional value, whether the item has been tested on animals, if it contains GM ingredients, what the animal welfare standards are or a whole host of other factors.

Comparing fair trade milk chocolate bars

To give you an example of how that works in practice when I am out shopping, I have found six seemingly very similar "fairly traded" milk chocolate bars (well we have just had Valentine's Day, it is near Easter and Mother's Day so it seems relevant) and compared them.

All criteria are marked out of 100. If it is a simple yes/no question, it's either 100 or 0 or in the case of the bins busted quest equally split between how the packaging was produced and how it can be disposed of.

Comparison of Fairtrade chocolate against different criteria including packaging, palm oil and organic

Take the scores as an approximation to give a way of comparing nearly like products. As you can see, some of the figures I am unsure about because the information isn't easily obtainable from either the product packaging or the company website. If I get further information about the chocolate bars I will be happy to change the scores. 

I'm in no way saying that this is the definitive way of making decisions - just the way I try to make decisions when I am on my best behaviour.

So what would stop me from purchasing fair trade?

If the product contained (or could contain) palm oil or if it was from a company I thought was trying to green wash me. Which would mean that if those options were the only possible choices I could make I'd go without (it's a luxury remember). If all those things were good and it was just between packaging types or whether it was organic or not, hmmm that would be tricky for me. 

Which product would I actually choose from the above? 

Well it would have to be one that ticks more boxes than not (ie one with a higher score). I am still holding a personal grudge against Green and Black's for selling out to Cadbury (honestly I was so disappointed) so they are not an option. Divine chocolate I am tempted to give more points to because of their chocolate farmers' 45% share holding in the company, but even if I did give them bonus points I still wouldn't choose it over Seed and Bean because I think the Seed and Bean chocolate tastes nicer. So as you see in the end I am pretty fickle and almost impossible to please.

Small print

Chocolates compared were: Cadbury Dairy Milk 200g (RRP £2.00), Divine Milk Chocolate 100g (RRP £2.10), Green and Black's Milk Chocolate 100g (RRP £2.19) - sold to Cadbury in 2005 , Galaxy Smooth Milk 114g (RRP £1.40) - Mars, Nestlé Milk Aero 120g (RRP £1.40), Seed and Bean Organic Fairtrade Rich Milk Chocolate 100g (RRP £2.49). For information about the boycotts for various chocolate bars/companies click on the links in this section.

What decision making process do you go through when choosing between similar fair trade chocolate products?

---- by Morag


Comments ...

Recent News