A Jewish Guide to Fairtrade

Reference: Fairtrade


The British Jewish community has a long history of charitable giving and activity. I am sure that every reader of this guide receives constant requests for donations to charities, Jewish or not. Many of you will already be giving of your time as well as whatever financial contribution you are able to make.

We also recognize that our activities must be directed outwards–to the wider world–as well as supporting our own communal charities.

‘Tzedakah’, the Jewish word for charity, is central to our values and, indeed, our prayers. The root of the word ‘Tzedakah’ is ‘Tzedek’ –the Hebrew word for Justice, and the Torah–Jewish law–teaches us; ‘Tzedek, Tzedek Tirof’–‘Justice, justice shall you pursue.’

It follows that the concept of justice, of fairness, is the very root of our charitable activities. It should be a priority for each of us to apply these rpinciples in every aspect of our daily lives, especially in areas where a little thought and action on our part can have a much larger effect on the lives of so many, far less fortunate than ourselves. That is why this guide is so important. It shows us how we can and must choose Fairtrade options whenever we can.

Not only is there no conflit between our Judaism and this campaign–our religion requires us to apply the principles of Fairtrade in all that we do.

I am therefore very happy to commend A Jewish Guide to Fairtrade to you all.

Henry Grunwald QC
President, Board of Deputies of British Jews


Fairtrade has become a widely recognised household name and Fairtrade’s popularity in the UK is rooted in the work of thousands of campaigners up and down the country. Their achievements are proof that ordinary people like you and me can create change, and can turn our ambitions about making trade fairer into a living reality.

Fairtrade gives each one of us an opportunity to be part of a wider movement–one that is changing the world now, and for the better. Years ago, visting Garstang in Lancashire–Britain’s first Fairtrade Town–on a cold, damp winter’s day, I was struck both by how far removed we are from the heat and dust of the villages at the other end of the Fairtrade community and yet also how close we all are to the farmers and their families as they struggle to make ends meet. Part of the magic of Fairtrade is that we are linked not just through buying and selling but because we share the same concerns–that an unequal world is an inherently unstable world–and believe in the same solutions that centre on putting people and the planet first.

Taking action for Fair Trade is something powerful. For each of the seven and a half million people–farmers, workers and their families–who currently participate in and are shaping Fairtrade, there are countless others queuing up to join the system if only we can open more markets for their goods. But they can only sell their goods as Fairtrade if we can increase sales here. The Jewish community, synagogues and organisations have already been active in building support for Fairtrade and I hope this guide will inspire even greater commitment. You can make a difference. Choose Fairtrade and Make It Happen.

Harriet Lamb
Executive Director, Fairtrade Foundation


What is Fairtrade?

Many farmers and workers in developing countries struggle to provide for their families. Poor market access and unfair trade rules often mean that the price they get for their crop does not cover the cost of production. Fairtrade is a rapidly growing international movement which seeks to guarantee a better deal for farmers and workers in the developing world. A product that is Fairtrade certified carries a label, the FAIRTRADE Mark.

What is a better deal?

  • Agreed stable and sustainable prices for producer organisations.
  • Longer-term trading relationships providing stability for producers.
  • Support in gaining the knowledge and skills that producers need to develop their businesses.
  • The Fairtrade price includes a premium which is set aside for farmers and workers to spend on social and environmental projects or to strengthen their organisations. This gives communities the power and resources to develop and invest in long-term improvement.

Why do we need Fairtrade?

The graph opposite [not pictured] illustrates the long-term downward trend in commodity prices in real terms, when inflation is taken into account. As a result of the catastrophic fall, many producers fail to get a fair share of the huge financial benefits that result from international trade in the commodities they produce.

World commodity prices can be extremely volatile, making it hard for producers to plan for the future. If farmers earn less than it costs to run their farms, they face real hardship–struggling to put food on the table or keep their children in school.

Who benefits from Fairtrade?

Fairtrade works with disadvantaged farmers in the developing world.

  • Small scale farmers suffer from poor market access and unfair international trade rules such as tariffs and rich country subsidies. Fairtrade ensures the price they get for their crop covers the cost of sustainable production and allows them to plan for the future.
  • Farm workers frequently do not share the benefits of global trade. Fairtrade aims to protect workers’ rights to decent pay, a safe working environment as well as the right to join a trade union.

When you see a FAIRTRADE Mark on a product, it means:

  • Producer organisations receive an agreed and stable price for their products that covers the cost of sustainable production and enables them to support their families and provide for a better future.
  • Producer groups also receive an additional amount of money on top of that, called the Fairtrade premium. The group decides democratically how this should be spent–improvements to health care, clean water supplies, schooling or business improvements such as processing facilities or building warehouses–the choice is theirs.
  • Producers are working to implement more sustainable farming methods by reducing chemical usage, recycling waste or investing the premium in their own environmental projects. The Fairtrade system does not insist on organic production, but the premium can be used to support producers wishing to convert to organic farming.

The Fairtrade Foundation is the UK’s leading authority on Fairtrade, committed to tackling poverty and injustice through trade. An independent, non-profit body, the Fairtrade Foundation licenses the use of the FAIRTRADE Mark on products in the UK that meet international Fairtrade standards. By bringing producers and consumers closer together, we are helping to build a citizens’ movement for fairer trade.

Case study: Banana producers in the Windward Islands

Cornelius Lynch grows bananas in the Mabouya Valley community of St Lucia in the Windward Islands. He was one of the first to export Fairtrade bananas to the UK nearly a decade ago. He helped set up the Fairtrade movement in St Lucia through the farmers’ organisation Windward Island Farmers Association (WINFA) and is now manager of St Lucia’s Fairtrade Organisation.

Cornelius and his wife Eudoxia work hard on the farm to support their five children, aged four to nineteen. But these are difficult days for Cornelius as the price of fertiliser and equipment for his land continue to rise.

Cornelius says his biggest concerns are not the frequent hurricanes that damage his banana crops but the international trade rules that mean the EU must reduce preferential treatment of small producers like Cornelius in the Windward Islands in favor of less socially and environmentally friendly producers. Fairtrade supports small farmers, like Cornelius, to protect their livelihood. For Cornelius, Fairtrade is a lifeline. He says:

‘Fairtrade has had a huge impact on me and our communities in many ways. Beginning with improving the standard of living, changing the mindset of little or no regard for the environment, bringing people of common objectives together, empowering producers and communities, and the list goes on. In short, Fairtrade has proven to be our window of hope in this global environment.’

All of St Lucia’s banana farmers are Fairtrade certified, meaning producers receive the minimum Fairtrade price for their bananas plus an additional Fairtrade premium. The farmers decide between themselves how best to spend the premium for the benefit of their members and the wider community. WINFA has purchased medical equipment for local hospitals and has more recently used the Fairtrade premium on projects top improve eight local schools, including providing running water to one school during the dry season when there is usually shortage of water in the community. Other schools have benefited from receiving furniture, computers and printers and the installation of electricity so that pupils can learn in a better environment.

Case study: Cotton producers in Gujurat, India

At Agrocel, a Fairtrade co-operative in Gujurat, India, Chakuben and Laljibnai Narranbhai make natural pesticides and fertilisers for cotton from chilli, garlic, and even cow dung and urine. The fair price the couple receive for their work has brought new opportunities for their family.

‘I did not get any education but I want my children to. Because of the Fairtrade price, I can send them to school’ says Laljibnai.

These natural pesticides are saving the co-operative money, protecting workers’ health and are kinder to the environment than conventional practices. Fairtrade standards encourage farmers to continually cut down on their use of pesticides and if possible, work towards full organic production on their farm.

The Narranbhais and the other members of the Agrocel co-operative rely heavily on cotton for their income. They receive 37% more for their Fairtrade certified cotton than they would have earned on the conventional market. This additional money, along with the Fairtrade premium, has allowed them to invest in their farms and the future of their communities.

At Agrocel, 99% of the cotton produced is Fairtrade, and 30% of that is organic. Farmers growing cotton certified as Fairtrade are also encouraged to grow other crops such as maize, sesame and cumin. It is better for the soil than always growing cotton, and means they have something to fall back on if the cotton crop fails. The premium has funded training in farming techniques for members of Agrocel, to help them get the best yields from their cotton. In this arid area of India rainwater is precious. Using the Fairtrade premium Agrocel members have planted fruit trees. They earn extra money by selling the fruit and the trees play their part by preventing soil erosion and replenishing ground water levels.

After the cotton leaves the Agrocel farmers, it goes to be spun into yarn to make Fairtrade cotton clothing. When you buy cotton carrying the FAIRTRADE Mark you know cotton farmers always benefit. You can read the full article about Fairtrade cotton in the Fairtrade Foundation newsletter on www.fairtrade.org.uk/resources

Frequently asked questions

Q: Should I buy local or Fairtrade?
A: The Fairtrade Foundation recognises that many farmers in the UK face similar issues to farmers elsewhere, but its specific role is to support farmers in the developing world.

Fair trade is not in competition with UK farmers and the purchase of locally produced and Fairtrade products are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Fairtrade focuses mainly on tropical agricultural products such as coffee and bananas that cannot be grown in temperate climates. For some items such as honey and flowers, local supply is not able to meet the total demand. It has been estimated that both UK flowers and honey account for less than one third of the UK market, so imports are necessary to keep up with consumers’ shopping preferences. Often the choice facing shoppers is not necessarily between local honey and Fairtrade certified honey but between Fairtrade honey and conventional honey imported from the US or China for example. What is important is that we all try to make informed choices wherever possible.

Q: Should I buy products from Israel or Fairtrade products?
A: The Fairtrade Foundation is committed to raising awareness of how buying products carrying the FAIRTRADE Mark empowers disadvantaged producers in developing countries and improves their livelihoods. There are only a few Fairtrade products available in the UK that could also be sourced from Israel, such as oranges, orange juice, and avocadoes. Many Jews feel it is important to support the Israeli economy. In these instances, however, it is up to each person to weigh up these choices and shop accordingly.

Q: Are supermarkets profiting from Fairtrade?
A: Fairtrade shows that trade can put people at the heart of the transaction whilst being commercially viable. Supermarkets do not operate as charities and will not dedicate valuable shelf space to products that are not commercially viable.

It is illegal for Fairtrade to intervene in end retail prices. Fairtrade makes sure producers receive a fair price and premium at the start of the chain between producers and buyers. The profit margins on Fairtrade items are decided by the retailer–some of them have switched entire product lines to Fairtrade without changing the price consumers pay. It is up to each person to make choices based on what they consider value for money and on how they want trade to work.

Q: How do I know farmers benefit when I buy a Fairtrade product?
A: FLO-Cert, an independent certification and auditing system, operates in more than seventy countries to certify producer organisations that meet Fairtrade standards. Fairtrade standards are designed to build the capacity of producer organisations, enable democratic decision making and participation as well as encourage environmentally sound farming practices. Uniting farmers and workers strengthens their position in the market and makes it harder for individuals to be exploited.

The Fairtrade Labelling Organisation (FLO) ensures Fairtrade products can be accounted for at every stage of the supply chain, from farmers to buyers to traders to the end seller. Labelling a product Fairtrade means shoppers can be sure producers have received a Fairtrade price and premium.

Q: Is the quality of Fairtrade products as good as my favourite brands?
Fairtrade products are available to suit different tastes, budgets and lifestyles. Fairtrade products must meet exactly the same quality requirements as any other products sold on conventional terms. The difference is that the close, long-term trading relationships between buyers and producers in the Fairtrade system give farmers a greater understanding of the quality demanded by UK markets.

Q: Is buying Fairtrade products a good idea, given concerns on climate change?
A: There is no doubt that climate change demands urgent action at every level. An effective, meaningful, international response will not ruin poor people’s prospects for development by taking away their right to trade on fair terms. Fairtrade products cannot be grown in a UK climate, therefore these products are imported regardless of whether they carry the FAIRTRADE Mark.

Fairtrade represents millions of producers who are already experiencing the devastating consequences of more frequent and severe climatic events. They have contributed the least to carbon emissions yet face a future of increased drought, flooding, disease and famine. Fairtrade enables communities to prepare for a changing future and respond to natural disasters. Long term relationships and established co-operative structures give producers the confidence and support they need.

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