Ethical buying power: Coffee, chocolate and Fairtrade


Fairtrade is a common-good philosophy that aids better trading conditions for producers and the export of their products (particularly in Africa). In addition, it promotes sustainability associated with trade and in the manufacturing sector. It works by holding both manufacturer and consumer to higher social and environmental standards.

fairtrade article While most (96%) Fairtrade products are agricultural goods, such as coffee, cocoa, bananas, cotton, sugar and flowers, others with Fairtrade certification include clothing, cosmetics, gold and consumable goods, such as soft drinks, wine and ice cream. (Image: Creative Commons)

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CD Anderson

What is Fairtrade?

Fairtrade is a non-governmental organisation that sources and co-ordinates the ethical certification of products and their producers. It is aimed at promoting equality and sustainability in farming sectors in the developing world, including Africa, Middle East and South America.

Dating back to the 1960s, Fairtrade began with small initiatives by individuals and communities who wanted to make a difference in developing countries. They sought to buy their products in an ethical manner, through paying fair prices, establishing direct trading partnerships with these producers and sharing knowledge and information on production, market and quality requirements.

In the 21st century, the Fairtrade philosophy has become a worldwide trend, with Fairtrade practices on every continent, in all regions.

Fairtrade is finding traction in Africa and South Africa, where support for local farmers and small-scale is a meaningful contributor to employment and the economy. Throughout the process, from the labour used to manufacture the products, the contents of the products and the selling mechanisms used to market the final product, Fairtrade promotes the equality and sustainability of small-scale agriculture, trade and manufacturing.

Infographic by Sifiso Nkabinde Fairtrade infographics.600

What products are Fairtrade?

A product that carries the Fairtrade certification stamp has met the organisation’s rigorous standards. These insist that profits from the sale of Fairtrade goods must be worked back to producers and farmers to improve labour conditions, promote sustainable, environmentally friendly farming and manufacturing techniques, and invest back into the business and its people.

While most (96%) Fairtrade products are agricultural goods, such as coffee, cocoa, bananas, cotton, sugar and flowers, they include clothing, cosmetics and beauty products, gold and consumable goods, such as soft drinks, wine and ice cream.

Popular companies that produce or use Fairtrade products in their manufacturing include American ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s, chocolatier Cadbury’s and over 100 global clothing retailers. In South Africa, Fairtrade products made locally and from Africa include Ciro coffee, Cadbury’s and several established and emerging wine farms, including Fairvalley, House of Mandela and Palesa. Fairtrade products are available from Woolworths – one of Brand South Africa’s 2015 Top 10 Most Valuable Brands – selected specialist food stores and some larger retail supermarkets.

Fairtrade quick facts

• More than half the bananas sold in Switzerland are products of Fairtrade.

• A quarter of all flowers sold in Germany are sourced by Fairtrade.

• While the hallmark of Fairtrade has been the export from source country to another region, over the last four years there has been an increase in domestic sales, keeping the Fairtrade cycle local.

• Demand for Fairtrade products is growing exponentially in Brazil, India and Kenya.

Source: Fairtrade South Africa

The business of Fairtrade: the triple bottom line

Fairtrade is based on the non-traditional commercial framework of the triple bottom line. Unlike the more traditional profit or loss bottom line, it looks at three levels of impact of products manufactured, marketed and sold: social, environmental and financial.

Simply, Fairtrade focuses on items that prioritise the people behind the product, followed by the positive impact the manufacture and consumption of the product has on the environment, and then on whether a profit is made from the product.

In South Africa, the triple bottom line means that what is produced from the business, goes back into the operation at all levels. Profits are used to attend to the educational and social needs of the workers: schooling, housing, social awareness, health and welfare. This, in turn, leads to more sustained job creation and employment security.

This philosophy falls in line with the ideals of South Africa’s National Development Plan, particularly in the areas of social cohesion, creating more inclusive economies and encouraging active citizenry.


Fairtrade Triple Bottom 600 Infographic by Sifiso Nkabinde