Does Fair Trade make a difference?

Last year’s General Assembly encouraged all parishes to become Fair Trade churches. What is Fair Trade? How can it help your church to support communities in developing countries? Tracey Patterson explains. 

Millions of small-scale farmers and producers throughout the world depend on selling their crops and products to survive. But it’s a high risk business because if prices drop it can mean tragedy and devastation. If they earn less than it takes to run the farm, they face real hardship, which in many cases means struggling to buy food or keep their children in school. Farmers may lose their land and, as a result, their livelihood. Similarly, many plantation workers endure low pay, unsafe working environments and poor living conditions. “The way that many products are produced, traded and consumed is simply unjust; this is a major cause of continuing world poverty”, says the Fair Trade Association of Australia and New Zealand (FTAANZ) in their publication Fairtrade: Your guide to sourcing certified Fairtrade products near you.

The prices that producers in developing countries receive for their goods depend more on international economics than the quality of their labours. Between 1970 and 2000, prices for sugar, cotton, cocoa and coffee fell by 30 to 60 percent. According to the European Commission, “the abandonment of international intervention policies at the end of the 1980s and the commodity market reforms of the 1990s in the developing countries left the commodity sectors, and in particular small producers, largely to themselves in their struggle with the demands of the markets.” Today, “producers…live an unpredictable existence because the prices for a wide range of commodities are very volatile and, in addition, follow a declining long-term trend”.

Problems faced by producers and workers can vary from product to product. For example, the majority of coffee and cocoa in developing countries is grown by independent small farmers working on their own land and marketing their produce through local cooperatives. For these producers, receiving a fair price for their coffee beans is critical. Access to market or price information is often very difficult and, as a result, many of these small farmers become increasingly dependent on middlemen, receiving progressively smaller returns for their work. On the other hand, most tea is grown on large estates and the workers can struggle to receive fair wages and decent working conditions.

Developed in the late 80s as a response to the collapse of coffee prices, Fair Trade is an alternative approach to conventional trade. It is a movement promoting trading partnerships that advocate equitable standards for international labour, environmentalism, and social policy in relation to a wide range of products being exported by developing countries.

Based on the principles of dialogue, transparency and respect, Fair Trade contributes to sustainable development by offering better conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalised producers and workers. Its intent is to help move these producers and workers from a position of vulnerability and risk to security and economic self-sufficiency, by empowering them to become stakeholders in their own organisations and play a wider role in the global arena.

It’s about giving disadvantaged people power through providing a “fair go” rather than charity. Fair Trade empowers farmers and farm workers to lift themselves out of poverty, by investing in their farms and communities, protecting the environment, and developing the business skills necessary to compete in a global marketplace. Fair Trade means fair prices and wages, decent working conditions, improved health and safety standards, security of long-term contracts, respect for all people (for example, by providing opportunities for women and children), sustainable production, and more control of their own lives through participating in democratic organisations. Amos Wiltshire, a Banana Farmer in Dominica says “Fair Trade has been the saviour of the farmers in Dominica – of agriculture and the whole economy. With Fair Trade, small farmers have been transformed from marginalizsd farmers into businessmen.” Similarly, Matthew Matoli a coffee farmer in Tanzania explains that, “without our co-operative and selling to the Fair Trade market, our life would have been terrible. Fair Trade gives us hope and courage. We are able to earn a higher wage and better provide for our families.”

Fair Trade is based on a clear set of internationally-agreed criteria and standards that are independently assessed and monitored by international certification body Fair Trade Labelling Organisations International. The standards include a Fair Trade price, which covers the cost of production, and a premium that is invested in the local community. The Fair Trade label is an independent consumer label on products that guarantees disadvantaged farmers, workers and their surrounding communities are getting a better deal. This seal of approval is backed by a certification and trade audit system applying to all companies in the supply chain right up to the final point of packaging. Producers must comply with Fair Trade standards; importers pay a Fair Trade premium in addition to minimum prices to support social, economic and environmental development; and Fair Trade licensees are licensed to apply the Fair Trade label to packaged products and sell them on the market.

Since its launch in 1988 for the coffee market, the Fair Trade label has been applied to hundreds of products worldwide. They range from tea, beer and chocolate, to clothing, ornamental plants, sports balls and bananas. In New Zealand, Fair Trade-labeled coffee, tea, chocolate, sugar, olive oil and spices can be found on many supermarket shelves, and in cafés, restaurants, Trade Aid and specialty shops throughout the country. Crafts and household items sold at Trade Aid stores also meet internationally agreed Fair Trade criteria. For an up-to-date list of product stockists, visit the Fair Trade Association of Australia and New Zealand’s website (, pop in to any Trade Aid store or ask at your local supermarket.

Christian World Service (CWS) and Trade Aid are active members of the Fair Trade Association of Australia and New Zealand. In 2006 these two organisations launched a new initiative inviting New Zealand churches to formalise their e. orts by declaring themselves as a “Fair Trade church”. A Fair Trade church has made a formal commitment to support the Fair Trade movement by purchasing Fair Trade certified tea and coffee (hot chocolate and sugar being optional extras) for use after services, and by promoting Fair Trade as a part of its commitment to a more just world.

The response to this initiative has been positive, with several churches having already formalised their commitment. St Mark’s in Christchurch not only serves Fair Trade tea and coffee after its services but is also taking other active steps, such as a monthly display of products available through Trade Aid (including ordering information), writing to local supermarkets to encourage them to stock Fair Trade products, celebrating Fair Trade Fortnight each year (28 April – 13 May) and raising the matter in worship. Says the Rev Dugald Wilson, “we are doing this because we think that Fair Trade is something we should be striving for as Christians. Poverty in the world has many causes and Fair Trade is one of them that we can do something about.”

At Kapiti Uniting Church, a Fair Trade Church in the Wellington Region, raising the issue of Fair Trade and making Fair Trade products available in their parish sparked “great interest” and support amongst the congregation and community, according to Maureen Roxburgh. “People didn’t realise what a pittance farmers in developing countries were being paid for their coffee. They soon warmed to the idea of supporting the cause”. And it’s not just the cause that is being supported: people genuinely enjoy the products. “The granulated and peculated coffee is popular in our church, and so are the tea bags. My husband and I personally really like the loose tea as it is strong and you have to only use a very little…but it depends on individual tastes, of course”.

The Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand Assembly Office is also taking action by making Fair Trade coffee, tea and hot chocolate available for sta. and visitors. Assembly Executive Secretary the Rev Martin Baker says that the issue of Fair Trade is “important to us as Presbyterians and fits into the wider mission of our Church”. “Our Christian concern for slavery, a just return for labour, and the fulfillment and value associated with receiving benefit from what you produce is deeply entrenched in the Scriptures”, he says. “The story of creation begins with God’s work. In Chapter Two of Genesis, God sets Adam to work in the Garden of Eden. There is a strong sense in the Bible of a connection between God’s intention for humanity and the wellbeing and fulfillment found in production work. In our outreach and mission, it is a simple and good thing to purchase products from these developing nations where it is going to be of direct benefit to the growers rather than just supporting some faceless multinational”. “Put simply,” Martin says, “…the choices we make as Christian consumers can make all the difference to our brothers and sisters in the poor countries of our world”.

So next time you are out shopping for coffee or walk into a café for a refreshing cup of tea, spare a thought for those whose lives we can so greatly assist by making a small change to the way we act as consumers. In the words of Eli Santana, a cocoa farmer in Ghana, “through this we can send our children to school; through this we can live in good houses; through this we can take care of ourselves and our family; and through this we can contribute to the development of the world. This is the message I have for our friends in New Zealand.”

For more information about Fair Trade in New Zealand contact:

Christian World Service
PO Box 22652
Christchurch 8142
Ph: (03) 366-9274
Fax: (03) 365-2919

Trade Aid
PO Box 35049
Ph: (03) 385-3535
Fax: (03) 385 3536

Becoming a Fair Trade Church is easy!

  • Introduce the topic of Fair Trade at a service or the appropriate congregational meeting.
  • Make the case for Fair Trade and suggest how to easily purchase supplies. CWS recommend ordering direct from the Trade Aid warehouse. They have an online ordering system that can be accessed by visiting CWS also has a PowerPoint presentation on coffee produced by FTAANZ and many DVDs and display materials that may be useful. Both CWS and Trade Aid also can provide speakers.
  • Arrange a special morning tea for your congregation so they can taste the difference.
  • Once you have general agreement, pass a resolution or make a formal agreement to become a Fair Trade Church. CWS’s suggested wording for this is: 

.... church agrees to become a Fair Trade church by serving Fair Trade tea and coffee [you might like to add hot chocolate and sugar] whenever possible at church events and by promoting Fair Trade. 

  • Then complete and return a CWS form to receive a certificate confirming your Fair Trade Church status. 
  • You may also like to appoint a contact person with responsibility for keeping the parish informed on Fair Trade matters.

Source: Christian World Service & Trade Aid. Become a Fair Trade Church.

What can your church do?

  • Have you become a Fair Trade Church yet? Contact Christian World Service for details!
  • Start serving Fair Trade tea and coffee after your services (sugar and hot chocolate are also available)
  • Offer to serve Fair Trade tea and coffee in local community groups and events
  • Organise a church service with a Fair Trade or trade justice theme. Ask someone in your congregation or from a charity or organization that you support to give a talk. Both CWS and Trade Aid can also provide great speakers.
  • Perform a drama or sketch to illustrate unfairness in trade and how Fair Trade helps
  • Include songs and hymns with the theme of justice
  • Attach symbols such as packaging of Fair Trade products or pictures of producers onto a world map and pray for the countries and people involved in Fair Trade
  • Encourage all external users of your church facilities to use Fair Trade products. Ensure that all groups understand the reasons why you have chosen to offer products with the Fair Trade label
  • Participate in Fair Trade Fortnight each year
  • Write to Trade Minister, Phil Goff, Parliament Buildings, Wellington asking him to support fairer international trade rules that benefit poor people not trans-national corporations
  • Write to local supermarkets and businesses encouraging them to stock Fair Trade certified products.

Useful links

Christian Aid:
Christian World Service:
Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance:
Focus on the Global South:
Food First:
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy:
Third World Network:
Trade Aid:
Trade Justice Network (UK coalition):
World Trade Organisation:

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