To stop the degradation of the global environment we have to deal with the failings of global trade, namely its tendency to increase poverty and its exploitation of the weak. Buying products labelled 'Fairtrade' is a good start.
The Fairtrade collection of organisations has developed a Fairtrade Certification Mark. When you find a product that bears this mark, you know that it has been procured through a process that has helped deliver better trading conditions to marginalised producers and workers. This usually involves setting a fixed and guaranteed price for the base commodity (eg coffee, cocoa) that is paid to the farmer regardless of variation in the markets and the machinations (and margins) of the middlemen.
The Fairtrade Labelling Organisation's mission is to 'enable sustainable development and empowerment of disadvantaged producers and workers in developing countries'. By buying Fairtrade-labelled products you are ensuring farmers and product makers in the developing world are receiving a fair cut of the money you spend.
How to do it now!
Buy Fairtrade certified products. The Fairtrade Association of Australia and New Zealand has an online resource where you can find out where to buy and sell Fairtrade products locally.
Support the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation (FLO)
Due to the labelling programs run by Fairtrade, over one million farmers and workers from over 50 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America are receiving higher wages for their efforts than they otherwise would have. This also improves the lives of their dependents - estimated to be another four million people.
Buying a gift?
When buying a gift, be mindful of the effect that your purchase makes on the environment and others. What impact will your gift have on the environment?
Has it been certified as Fairtrade? Is it tested on animals? Is an ethical alternative available? Consider whether the item you are giving is something meaningful, useful and lasting or just a waste of space and resources likely to be quickly dispensed with rather than maintained and treasured. Try to support businesses with positive, ethical practices and purchase goods with minimal packaging. The Oxfam Shop is a good place to start and if you're stuck for a gift, consider purchasing carbon credits or making a donation on the gift recipient's behalf.
The Ethical Consumer Guide gives you the low-down on the environmental and social record of companies behind common brand names. Shop at the supermarket with a clear conscience! The guide also comes in an iPhone app.
Why is this action important?
A unique feature of Fairtrade is its focus on development; the certification system is specifically designed to facilitate capacity building and the empowerment of smallholder producers and disadvantaged workers in developing countries.
As well as ensuring workers and farmers in developing countries receive a more equitable return for their goods, the Fairtrade organisation works with them to improve the efficiency, health and education of their communities. In addition, they encourage farming and production practices that are environmentally sustainable.
From the perspective of a 'western' consumer, Fairtrade labelling allows you to buy products produced in developing countries with the knowledge that you are not exploiting another person or the environment.
Impoverished communities in the developing world often decimate their local ecosystems in order to support their communities' need for food, shelter, warmth and cooking fuel. Lack of education, together with health issues and the struggle for survival, further impede their ability to manage and work their environment in a sustainable manner. By paying them more fairly for their products we start to reverse this trend and support them as they care for their environment.
Few people believe it is ethical to pay a producer 10 per cent of the final sale price and in the process keep them in a marginal state of poverty. Prior to the advent of Fairtrade labelling it was difficult for you to know how your purchasing decisions would affect the lives of those responsible for the product. Being able to live in alignment with your ethics makes you smile.