Fair trade: a popular principle

By Leah Armstrong

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Fair trade

Many companies support the concept of fair trade but far fewer are willing to go the distance and conform to Fairtrade certification, research group Organic Monitor says.

Although fair trade has become a buzz-term for the cosmetics industry, with many companies professing ethical and environmental credentials, the number of cosmetics brands bearing the Fairtrade logo (such as Lush and Bubble & Balm) remains relatively low.

Amarjit Sahota, director of research at Organic Monitor told CosmeticsDesign-Europe that there is a discrepancy between brands that use the word ‘traded fairly’ in their marketing blurb and those that are actually engaged in Fairtrade practices, as recognised by the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation (FLO).

To add to the mix, other related product claims include ethical, natural, organic, environmentally-friendly. The result is a ‘blurring’ of claims that unsurprisingly leaves consumers confused.

General principle

The definition of fair trade, which Sahota said is universally applied across the food, clothing and cosmetics industry by the FLO is as follows:

Fair trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers – especially in the South. Fair trade organisations, backed by consumers, are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of conventional international trade.

General terms such as ‘equity’, ‘respect’ and ‘sustainable development’ are terms most brands are happy to use in their marketing rhetoric. This means that in principle, many natural and organic cosmetics brands are able to associate themselves with the fair trade movement.

One example Sahota gave is Aveda, which was the first cosmetics company to achieve ‘Cradle to Cradle’ Certification, reflecting a strong commitment to environmental sustainability because of the way in which it looks at how products are sourced, as well as how their production and consumption impacts the environment.

While he commended Aveda for this, Sahota stated that the company's products should not be considered Fairtrade as they do not contain Fairtrade certified ingredients. This underlines the fact that, though fair trade and the environment are often inextricably linked, the two are separate issues for companies to tackle.

‘Fairly traded’ doesn’t mean Fairtrade

Claire Linney, Aveda spokesperson told CosmeticsDesign-Europe, ‘To us, fair trade is a movement that aims to help producers in developing countries obtain better trading conditions and promote sustainability. The movement advocates the payment of a higher price to producers as well as social and environmental standards. Although we don’t describe it as Fairtrade, we believe and act on a very similar ethos.’

The Body Shop, a brand well-known for its support of ethical and animal rights, supports ‘Community Trade’. Through this, the company’s official line is that it makes a ‘commitment to trading fairly and responsibly with suppliers'.

'We actively seek out small-scale farmers, traditional craftspeople and rural cooperatives and even tribal villages, to forge deep, long-lasting relationships, rewarding our suppliers with good trading practices and a reliable, independence building wage’,​ the company states.

While this definition does closely resemble that of the Fairtrade objectives, it is not certified by the association and is an independent trading movement launched by the Body Shop.

In reality, few companies have actually sought Fairtrade certification for their products- Lush and Weleda being among the few. By contrast, this is a marginal number compared with the range of brands that make claims about ‘environmental sustainability’ and ethical credentials.

Whilst Sahota said that there are currently no problems with ‘illegitimate claims’ about Fairtrade, in the way that there has been with the organic and naturals market, particularly in the US, he did state that it was important for the consumer to understand the difference between the use of the term ‘traded fairly’ and the use of the Fairtrade certification logo.

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