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And the answer is not just that one has a space in the name and the other doesn't!
As a toy wholesaler we are passionate about sourcing ethically but have never claimed to be an expert in the intricacies of the fairtrade organisations.
In order to keep the public's faith in fair trade products there has to be an awful lot of paperwork and systems. As you can imagine checking that producers claiming to be fair trade and asking to be validated by a fair trade organisation need to be subjected to a very thorough investigation.
Its easier for us as we are a toy wholesaler and not a fair trade organisation. All we do is go out and meet the producers! No one who has ever met Samantha Morshed could ever fail to be convinced of her passion for improving the lives of people in Bangladesh. Visiting the centres she has set up is always an inspiring time and one that offers conclusive proof of the benefits that buying Pebble toys brings.
Pebble toys is certified by the World Fair Trade Organisation - WFTO. This is different from the Fairtrade Foundation who own the famous blue Ying/Yang logo that is so instantly recognisable in the UK.
I can't say that I thought much about the difference between the 2 organisations, and in fact I confess that I wasn't even aware that the difference was of any importance until we received the following email from the Fairtrade Foundation
"It has been brought to our attention by some of your customers that your product descriptors on your website describe your products as ‘Fairtrade’.
These customers have earnestly requested to display the FAIRTRADE Mark next to the products they have for sale.
Of course you have products which are sourced on ‘fair trade’ terms displaying the WFTO logo, but these are not ‘Fairtrade’ prdoucts compliant with the Fairtrade Standards as defined by Fairtrade International.
Could I please ask that you forward this email on to the correct person at Best Years to ensure that the website’s messaging is consistently ‘fair trade’ and not ‘Fairtrade’ in order that the messaging is clear and the status of the products your offer is not misleading"
So there is definitely a difference, but what is it?
One interpretation I have seen is that Fair Trade is a general term, something used to describe trading partnerships which are based on dialogue, transparency and respect. Trading relationships where one of the primary objectives of the partnership is to treat workers fairly, pay them properly and improve their lives. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to marginalized producers and workers.
The term Fair Trade includes both labelled and unlabelled goods and the work of alternative trade organisations, Fair Trade federations and networks such as the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO)
On the other hand The Fairtrade Mark is a registered certification label for products sourced from producers in developing countries. The Fairtrade Mark is a registered trademark of Fairtrade International (FLO). It certifies that products meet the social, economic and environmental standards set by Fairtrade. The Fairtrade Mark is now the most widely recognised social and development label in the world. The Mark is owned and protected by Fairtrade International on behalf of its members.
We do not just source from fair trade producers so we should also throw in "fairly traded" which is where products don't have any Fairtrade or fair trade certification but which state they have been traded in an ethical manner. We try to buy from smaller producers who by their very nature could not handle the systems required by either fairtrade or fair trade certification but which have been set up with the sole intention of providing fairly paid employment to the poorest of workers.
And then there is ethically sourced where the production is not carried out under fair trade conditions but where the products are manufactured in conditions which are good enough that you would be happy for your own child to work there. That's a Best Years Ltd definition rather than a technical one but I am sure you'll agree it gets the point over!
I have to be honest and say that the difference between fairtrade and fair tradeis still a slight mystery to me. As a toy wholesaler what matters to us is that no one is disadvantaged by working for any of our partners. Moreover if we can achieve some good by sourcing products from disadvantaged people then we will actively seek to do so. Every year we leave the office with the sole intention of finding new producers, if possible we would like them to have some sort of fair trade certification, but this is not a requirement, more a wish list.
So is there a difference between fairtrade and fair trade? I'm not sure I really know but given the email we received this week then please could all of our retailers remember to describe both Pebble and Under the Nile toys as fair trade and not fairtrade!