Fair Trade and the Environment

Lucy Robinson is a guest blogger and the views expressed herein are her own and do not necessarily represent the views of Shared Interest Society.

Lucy is a co-founder of By Hand, an online store that specializes in fair trade jewellery and handicrafts from the Indonesian island of Bali. If you would like to be a guest blogger, please contact us with your interest.

At the recent Shared Interest meeting in York, Jeremy Piercy, founder of fair trade success story Shared Earth, addressed the relationship between fair trade and the environment. In his eyes environmentalists and fair trade campaigners are missing a trick – the two separate campaigns have much to gain from working together.

Climate change is a serious issue for all of us, but for some of the poorest communities in the world it is a real problem. As the End Poverty 2015 Campaign states, severe weather events are expected to increase in frequency and intensity, and poor countries lack the infrastructure to respond adequately. Meanwhile, changing rainfall patterns will devastate the crops that many in developing countries rely on; and diseases such as malaria are also expected to increase in prevalence.

As a future cause of poverty, climate change is clearly a relevant issue for fair trade – a movement that seeks to use trade to improve the lives of the world’s poorest and most marginalised producers.

But fair trade can also offer hope to the climate change cause: Many goods produced within the fair trade sector are key examples of items being produced in a carbon-neutral way. Many of the small producer groups, which produce jewellery and handicrafts etc., use traditional methods, creating their products by hand or with simple tools. A large number of recycled or eco-friendly materials are also incorporated into fair trade products. For example, bags in the By Hand range are made from materials such as recycled Batik fabric, and fast-growing natural materials including rattan, lontar palm leaves and raffia leaves.

Although many fair trade products originate from the other side of the globe, the environmental damage caused by their shipping is far less than expected when sea freight is used. In his book, Coffins, Cats & Fair Trade Sex Toys, Piercy gives the example of shipping an eco-coffin from China to the UK; when transported by boat it is roughly equivalent to driving a car in the UK for just 3-4 miles. It is airfreight that does the real damage, and fair trade organisations can choose to set the example here and transport their goods by sea freight alone.

Fair trade organisations selling products, which have been made using traditional, almost entirely carbon-neutral methods, can highlight the eco-friendly nature of the goods they are selling in comparison to those mass-produced in polluting factories, whilst the fair trade movement as a whole can also make it clear that buying fair trade is not just a fight against poverty, but also a step in the right direction as far as climate change is concerned.

Both fair trade and climate change enjoy mass public support and awareness of the two issues is high, thanks to media interest, celebrity support and extensive campaigning. Now it is time for the two campaigns to unite: for the fair trade movement to lead the fight against climate change, and for the climate change movement to lead the support for fair trade.

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3 thoughts on “Fair Trade and the Environment

  1. Lucy,

    I fully support the points you’ve raised here; on several occations I’ve been asked to engage in the fairtrade vs climate change debate. It’s important to remind ourselves that many fairtrade producers and buyers go about their work in an eco-friendly manner.


    PS the By Hand website is great!

  2. hello,

    interesting issues here. I think Cafedirect are demonstrating a clear understanding of the connections between fair trade and climate change. They are working with their producers to understand the impacts and challenges they face. This plays such an important role in enabling the producers to continue to supply them. If Cafedirect understand the issues they face and can work with the producers to find ways of overcomnig these it helps everyone in the relationship.

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