Why Your Shopping Harms Fair Trade

Money talks. That is the reality of our fast, consumerist society. Where we put our money, backs the manufacturing practices of the brands we buy. If we keep buying brands that make their products in sweat shops or employs cheap labour, then these people continue to live in squalid conditions or have trouble feeding their families.

If it is difficult for you to imagine this scenario, then imagine that you work 12-hours a day from 8am to 8pm, six days a week, in an overcrowded office space or under the scorching sun in the fields. At the end of the month, you are paid S$800 for your efforts. That is the experience of many farmers and labourers in India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, China, Morocco, Ecuador, and other countries that supply raw materials for skin, body, hair care products and food.

Fairness towards people from all backgrounds and transparency within the working environment is an on-going concern that finally received international attention with the creation of World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) in 1989. The association then established the official annual Fair Trade Day in 2004, which falls on the second Saturday of May.

What is Fair Trade?

With the goal of establishing the purest form of transparency, fair trade is pretty much how it sounds: showing fairness and proper ethics towards workers in manufacturing firms, farmers and labourers within the line of the product industry.

This act of fairness includes a variety of factors:

  • Prevention of underpayment
  • Prevention of biases and discrimination against gender, race and ethnicity
  • Supporting appropriate, safe working environments
  • Supporting the environment

Take coffee for instance. Ecuador and Cuba are rumoured to have some of the best on the planet; but how long does it take to harvest and select the finest beans? Better yet, with the kind of effort and time invested by small production industries, are the farmers paid or treated well for it?

When we, as foreigners to these manufacturing countries, witness the massive amounts of space and natural resources in these areas, it can be difficult to fully appreciate the effort and patience in planting the best crops or using the finest materials to produce the best clothing, especially when we take the position of consumers.

Photo credit: www.earthzine.org
Photo credit: www.earthzine.org

Why Should You Trade Fairly?

As consumers, contributing to firms that believe in entitlements for workers can say a lot about our general integrity; but is also filled with other plus points in the business sense. One of the general priorities of fair trade companies is a focus on keeping an environmentally friendly identity. This means no preservatives, no chemicals for crop pesticide, and definitely no animal testing. Through this strict belief, you can be sure that you will receive products without any artificial interference.

Through extensive involvement of farmers, intelligent investment choices in crop fields are reduced in size but compensated with quality. Through selections, farmers actively search for fertile soil and follow through with the entire production process—a more personal approach in ensuring quality goods. Another type of quality any consumer would appreciate is business relationships. With a small, controlled production field, consumers are not only contributing to the respective local economy, but can also establish mutual trust between producers and the consumers.

Fair Trade In Singapore

Living in an urban jungle like Singapore, we are probably underexposed to production point of views. Colossal brands like Cedele, Marks & Spencer, Ban Choon Marketing, The Body Shop and Café Direct are brands with a dominant presence of fair trade, backed with double certification. If you are looking at becoming more culturally acquainted with the workers of these companies, you will be disappointed—but there are other ways in getting more involved.

While the U.S. and U.K. are drastically more involved in fair trade matters than Singapore, we still have opportunities. Despite the Garden City lacking national presence over the matter, the community-run Fair Trade SG functions as Singapore’s bridge between ethical consumers and fair trade businesses.

Celebrating Fair Trade Day usually includes art, food and immersing in festive vibes, serving as a timely reminder for consumers like us to make the more responsible decision when committing purchases to companies. We might lack a true fair trade movement in Singapore, but as individuals, we can definitely make a difference.

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