October is Fair Trade Month, a period dedicated to spotlighting fair-trade products, even amid the backdrop of escalating food costs. This naturally raises the question: Why commemorate fair trade when many of its products bear a higher price tag, rendering them less budget-friendly for consumers wrestling with rising food expenses?
Indeed, Fairtrade-certified products frequently bear price tags anywhere from 20 to 50 percent higher than their conventional counterparts. Nevertheless, it remains crucial for us to discuss fair trade, given our collective concerns regarding sustainability and social justice for farmers globally.
While Fairtrade food products may not have yet attained widespread popularity, their recognition and credibility have undeniably surged. According to a recent survey by Globe Scan, over 57 percent of Canadians have encountered Fairtrade logos while grocery shopping. The primary products that receive certification include coffee, chocolate, tea, and bananas, with fair-trade bananas making substantial inroads into various stores over the past year.
Fairtrade’s core principles revolve around reshaping trade dynamics by ensuring fairer prices, decent working conditions, and equitable deals for farmers and workers in developing nations. This paradigm shift inherently embraces sustainable farming practices.
Throughout history, economic cycles have influenced consumer perceptions of initiatives such as fair trade. Notably, during the great financial crisis 15 years ago, the proportion of Canadians expressing significant or very high concern about climate change and environmental issues declined from 71 percent in 2008 to 46 percent in 2010, according to data from Globe Scan. Today, amidst soaring food prices, that figure has dipped from 62 percent to 59 percent.
However, unlike previous periods of economic hardship, climate change remains a paramount concern in Canada. This shift is being driven, once again, by younger generations, including Gen Xs and millennials, despite recent challenges faced at the grocery store. Although only one in three Canadians has purchased fair-trade certified products in the last six months, a majority of them are under the age of 43.
One compelling reason for grocers to expand their offerings of fair-trade products lies in the potential to forge stronger connections with farmers further up the supply chain. Grocers currently face diminished social capital, as a significant number of Canadians believe that corporate profiteering unjustly inflates food prices – an issue that grocers must confront. Aligning their product lines with underprivileged farmers in regions where socio-economic justice remains a daily struggle could be a strategic move, especially in the present economic climate.
It would not be surprising to see a growing variety of fair-trade products on grocery store shelves in the coming years, precisely for the above reasons. Consumer trust is fundamentally rooted in the desire to effect meaningful change. While grocers have long supported food banks and various charitable causes, these efforts often lack prominent promotion.
Conversely, Fairtrade stands out as a visible, transparent, trusted, and trustworthy option – qualities that can enhance grocers’ ethical standing in the eyes of the public. A recent Globe Scan survey reveals that more than 85 percent of Canadians trust Fairtrade certification labels, a level of trust that grocers can aspire to achieve. Therefore, strategic alignment with Fairtrade makes eminent sense.
It is essential to recognize that Fairtrade may not be financially accessible to all consumers due to its price premium. Nevertheless, it bridges the economic gap between affluent and impoverished populations worldwide, instilling consumers with a sense of social responsibility when they choose Fairtrade products. This compelling dynamic should not be easily dismissed.
Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is senior director of the agri-food analytics lab and a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.
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