Supporting Ethical Markets

Collective Action for Encountering Others: Supporting markets in which the well-being of others is built into the encounter

Making markets work more ethically means shifting to market transactions in which there are more direct connections with the others who help to meet our needs.

FAIR TRADE is an overarching term for transactions that shorten the supply chain between the producer and consumer, and provide a fairer deal for producers. Often associated with coffe eand cocoa, more and more products are being incorporated into fair trade networks, including bananas, cotton, flowers and sports balls.

There are various bodies such as Fairtrade International that certify products as fair trade.

There are also organisations that aim to increase fair trade. These organisations include Fair Trade Resource Network which works in the US, and The Fair Trade Association which works in Australia and New Zealand.

DIRECT TRADE involves retailers or consumers dealing directly with producers (instead of relying on fair trade certification).

Direct trade is most common in coffee markets. Intelligentsia Coffee is one retailer that sources its coffee directly from producers (and pays 25 per cent more than the fair trade price for coffee). Through Pachamama Coffee Cooperative, consumers can source coffee directly from farmers in Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Peru or Ethiopia.

Equal Exchange is a retailer and worker-owned cooperative that has been operating since 1986 sourcing products (such as coffee, tea, chocolate, fruit and nuts) from small-scale farmers.

Direct trade can also develop through personal connections. One example is  Weaving for Justice, a US-based non-profit organisation that works with cooperatives of women weavers in Chiapas, Mexico.

CONSUMER COOPERATIVES are groups of consumers who join together to multiply their buying power. Some consumer cooperatives focus on getting the best price but most have strong commitments to ensuring a fair deal for both producers and consumers.

The Cooperative Group in the UK has nearly 8 million members and employs nearly 90,000 workers. Along with grocery stores it offers other services that include travel, banking and insurance. It aims to be the most socially responsible business in the UK.

Alter Trade Japan acts as a broker between consumer cooperatives in Japan and producers in other parts of the world. Its products include eco-farmed shrimps from Indonesia, traditionally-produced sea salt from marshes in France and olive oil from Palestine.

BUY-LOCAL CAMPAIGNS are a means of fostering connections with locally-based retailers and producers.

The American Independent Business Alliance is a non-profit educational organisation helping towns and cities with buy-local campaigns.

Food miles are an indication of how far food has travelled from producer to consumer; however, when assessing the amount of greenhouse gases produced, a full life-cycle analysis is necessary to take into account how food is produced, stored, packaged, and disposed of.

ETHICAL CONSUMER GUIDES can be used to assist consumers answer questions about the social, economic and environmental impacts of products on the supermarket shelves.

In Australia, the Ethical Consumer Group has produced the Ethical Consumer Guide which is available as a booklet, online or as smartphone app. The Group also holds workshops and offer suggestions on how to run your own supermarket tour.

In the UK, Ethical Consumer offers product guides, reports and supports a not-for-profit research co-operative.

In the US, Green America provides a guide for consumers.

Some organisations also offer guides for particularl products. For example, Greenpeace produces a Guide to Greener Electonics that rates companies’ policies on things such as recycling and climate change.

NEW MARKETS are being developed as new ethical concerns arise.

In the area of climate change, Cap and Trade Schemes have been developed to try to limit and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, these schemes are contentious and so Cap-and-Dividend Schemes have been developed. These are also market-based, but return revenue to citizens in a way that benefits low-income households.

Finaly, it is critical to ensure our transactions prevent trade that is based on violent regimes and inhumane practices. BOYCOTTING CAMPAIGNS can be an effective way of condemning unethical market practices.

The Ethical Consumer has a comprehensive English language list of boycotts as well as a guide to starting a boycott campaign.