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Fair trade

Millions of people around the world rely on agriculture for their livelihoods. In some poorer countries up to 70% of the population is fully or partly dependent on it. The growing market share and power of retailers has contributed to a situation where workers’ rights and environmental standards are under pressure in an effort to secure large quantities of products at the cheapest possible price.

Labelling and accreditation systems like Fairtrade and Traidcraft have been crucial in raising the profile of ethical issues in food and farming. Today the UK market for ‘ethical’ food is the second largest in the world after the US, and UK Fairtrade sales alone stood at £1.78 billion ( a 14% rise on 2012’s figures).

This growing appetite for fairly traded goods has shone a spotlight on ‘ethical’ foods. As the industry grows, do ‘ethical labels’ live up to their promises? Are they fair, or just fairer?

When big businesses buy into ethical standards does that erode their value either in practice or in principle?  Or is it the fact that there are so many labels claiming to be ethical that confuses consumers and damages trust in the movement?

Companies like Sainsburys and Waitrose have blazed a trail in only using Fairtrade for certain products like bananas, sugar and tea. That begs the question – if it’s possible, why are there still unfair products on our supermarket shelves at all?

Our report Food Justice examined these issues and more.

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