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Selling the idea of fair trade

Rice is a staple of fair trade shops (flickr.com)

Fair trade is a growing business, and one which has caught the Swiss imagination: they are the world champions in the consumption of fair trade products.

With each Swiss spending on average SFr32.75 ($31.9) per year on such items, they are way ahead of their nearest rivals, the British, who spend the equivalent of SFr18 and the Danes, who spend SFr11.30.

The fair trade movement aims to help small producers in developing countries to achieve economic self-sufficiency, giving them better market access and cutting down the number of middlemen.

In Switzerland, the first shop dealing in fair trade goods opened in December 1974 in Lausanne. Today there are roughly 300 “world shops” nationwide, staffed to a large extent by volunteers, and fair trade products are also on sale in 2,500 supermarkets.

Each language region has its own independent umbrella organisation, although they cooperate with each other. In German-speaking Switzerland, fair trade goods are sold in 136 claro shops. In the French-speaking area, the Association Romande des Magasins du Monde has some 40 member shops, while in Italian-speaking Switzerland the Associazione delle Botteghe del Mondo has 16 outlets.

They sell a range of food items – including coffee, tea, chocolate, dried fruit and rice – as well as textiles, craft goods and some cosmetic products.

But they also see their task as raising awareness within Switzerland of the inequalities of international trade, and giving consumers a chance to demonstrate solidarity with producers in the developing world.

The fair trade network

Fair trade means more than the familiar shop outlets in Swiss towns and villages.

The claro fair trade company is the main importer of fairly traded goods in Switzerland, supplying the other “world shops” as well as its own. Smaller importing organisations include TerrEspoir, Zur Kalebasse and Helvetas.

Caritas-Fairtrade, a company connected with the humanitarian organisation Caritas Switzerland, concentrates exclusively on fair trade goods, acting as importer, wholesaler and supplier, with special emphasis on craft products. The gebana organisation, one of the European pioneers, is renowned for its innovative ideas. It imports and distributes organic agricultural produce and for 30 years has been collaborating with small producers in Burkina Faso, Brazil and Tunisia.

The Swiss Max Havelaar Foundation has a different role. The Max Havelaar label on an item certifies that it has been produced and marketed in accordance with the fair trade standards guaranteed by the international Fairtrade Labelling Organizations (FLO). One of its great successes has been to introduce fair trade goods to the major retail chains, Coop and Migros.

Swiss Fairtrade, created in 2007, is the association which brings together all the key players: importers, non-governmental orginastions, brand certification bodies and fair trade umbrella associations.

Working for a fairer world

The world has not stood still since the birth of the fair trade movement.

“Over the years there have been many changes,” Claire Fischer Torricelli, the president of Associazione Botteghe del Mondo, told swissinfo.ch. “Globalisation and fierce competition have transformed society and the world of work, at the same time generating new forms of inequality.”

The fair trade movement itself has changed too. Over time, quality has become an increasingly important consideration.

The early products were purchased mainly, or almost exclusively, as a way of expressing solidarity, Daniela Sgarbi Sciolli and Ingrid Joray, who manage the Italian-Swiss head office of Botteghe del Mondo, told swissinfo.ch

But quality alone is not enough. Botteghe del Mondo is a voluntary organisation, but it can only thrive in the medium- and long-term by becoming more professional, they explained.

And there are encouraging signs. While the economic crisis has increasingly affected patterns of consumption throughout Europe, the fair trade sector has held up well. And this is thanks not only to the characteristics of the product, but to the values it conveys and promotes all over the planet.

Françoise Gehring, swissinfo.ch (Adapted by Julia Slater)

Top 10

Annual consumption of fair trade products per head:

Switzerland: €21.06 (SFr 32.75)

Britain: €11.57 (SFr 18)

Denmark: €7.27 (SFr 11.30)

Luxembourg: €6.72 (SFr 10.45)

Finland: €6.56 (SFr 10.20)

Austria: €6.36 (SFr 9.90)

Ireland: €5.40 (SFr 8.40)

Sweden: €4.66 (SFr 7.25)

Norway: €3.87 (SFr 6)

France and Belgium: €3.31 (SFr 5.15)

Source: Trade 2007: Facts and Figures, FINE Advocacy Office, Brussels

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Fair Trade

Fair trade accounts for 0.01% of all world trade.

But with a steady increase of 20% per year since 2000, it is one of the most dynamic sectors.

It involves more than 5 million producers and workers from more than 50 developing countries.

Between 2004 and 2007 global sales of goods certified by the Fairtrade Labelling Organisations (FLO) almost tripled, from €832 million to €2.3 billion.

Fairly traded goods are on sale not only in Europe, but also in Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and the United States.

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History of Fair Trade

1959, Kerkrade, Netherlands: A group of young Roman Catholics, horrified by pictures of poverty in Sicily, establish SOS Wereldhandel.

1964, Geneva: At the first UN conference on trade and development, developing countries demand fair trade, under the slogan trade not aid.

1969, Breukelen, Netherlands: The first “world shop” opens in this small Dutch town. The initiative is copied in Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Switzerland and Sweden.

1994, European Parliament: The Langer Resolution on fair trade is unanimously adopted by the European Parliament. Among other things it included the principle of fair trade in European development policy.

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