It was a start, and after just a few years the concept had spread to neighbouring European countries, with Japan, Canada and the United States quickly following suit. In Great Britain, now major brands like Green & Black's and Clipper joined the cause, and over the next 15 years, supermarkets and other local establishments began stocking their shelves with products sourced from places where producers were paid more fairly for the goods that they farmed. The Co-op made a particular effort, and in 2009, Starbucks announced its commitment to converting all of its coffee to Fairtrade.
Fairtrade, as the name implies, is essentially the promotion of fairer trading policies between companies and producers. No longer limited solely to protecting the rights of farmers in developing countries, the Fairtrade organisation seeks to encourage sustainability, anywhere that consumable goods are produced or harvested.
The practice does have its critics, though. Mostly global economists who argue, amongst other issues, that the Fairtrade "label" can potentially trap developing world producers in a state of dependency, reliant on the goodwill of wealthy consumers. Personally, though, until a plan emerges that can comprehensively assist everyone, Fairtrade or not, I believe that whatever good is being done, is worthwhile. That said, policing the real world practices of every Fairtrade-certified company might be tricky, and ensuring that a substantial amount of the extra profits made from Fairtrade goods actually makes it back to those it is trying to help, is perhaps something that needs to be further scrutinised by consumers.
'Beyond Bananas: Bespoke Bullion.'
Since Fairtrade associations pertain most often to literally consumable consumables, such as fruit, tea, coffee and so on, it is often surprising to learn that some non-edible industries can also benefit from support. Harriet Kelsall is the owner of a bespoke jewellery establishment in Cambridge, that makes a stunning range of unique jewellery using Fairtrade mined gold from Bolivia. Most of the world's gold is mined by large-scale industrial companies, but there are several communities throughout South America that depend on the revenue garnered from gold mining, and Harriet's is one of just a handful of companies, certified as supporting them.
Handicrafts and clothing, too, fall under the umbrella of potentially Fairtrade goods. One World Is Enough is a small, independent store in Cambridge, dedicated to sourcing crafts and clothing from around the world, handmade by people in communities reliant on ethical international sales. I was there for less than half hour, but the array of intricately carved wooden ornaments and complexity of the woven goods compared to their price, was a stout reminder of how hard a lot of these small producers have to work in order to make a living.
Fairtrade Fortnight, which runs this year until 11 March, is the real-world equivalent of thread bumping, and in Cambridge, the Mayor, along with the local Fairtrade Steering Group, has been visiting retailers, cafés and other establishments to perform an audit. The team have been handing out window stickers to those places that sell Fairtrade products, like One World Is Enough and Harriet Kelsall, and whilst the percentage of Fairtrade goods varies significantly from one shop to the next, the number of places involved is encouraging. During the day, I also visited Michaelhouse and The Green Coffee Co. which is situated inside the city's Guildhall.
It is clear that the Fairtrade system is not perfect, but is encouraging. I have said already that taking a wider interest can be beneficial to your own interests, but the Fairtrade movement illustrates just how altruistic we can be, even if it is going to cost us a few extra pennies.
You can see a gallery of photos from Fairtrade places in Cambridge here.
Follow Graeme Keeton on Twitter: www.twitter.com/GraemeKeeton