The Common Good
May 2007

Entering the Fair Trade Zone

by Richard Vernon | May 2007

The Scottish district of East Renfrewshire has—along with towns, villages, schools, and more than 1,000 churches throughout Britain—recently secured "fair trade status." ...

The Scottish district of East Renfrewshire has—along with towns, villages, schools, and more than 1,000 churches throughout Britain—recently secured "fair trade status." Ken Macintosh, the district's member of the Scottish Parliament, writes, "It took some doing. We've been meeting regularly for the best part of three years, and for every new business that we signed up, one seemed to slip away again." But the effort was worth it. "Momentum is really going our way on fair trade awareness—on ethical consumerism generally. Fair trade allows each of us to use our power as consumers to challenge inequality. Producers get a fair return on a fair day's work. Not a handout, but respect; not exploitation, but genuine trade. It's good for the developing world, but it's good for us as a society too."

For municipal bodies, fair trade status begins with local government passing resolutions to support trade justice and committing to using fair trade goods in all meetings and facilities. A local steering committee is convened to ensure ongoing promotion of fair trade products and advocacy in the community. Authorities must document that a certain percentage of local businesses are committed to selling and using fairly traded products and set targets for growth in this area. The Fairtrade Foundation certifies when the standards have been met.

Now Scotland and Wales have gone the extra espresso and declared themselves "fair trade nations," pursuing similar measures and goals within government departments and nationwide. The Scottish Parliament is encouraging faith groups, trade unions, schools, and voluntary organizations to sign fair trade pledges and go through fair trade certification.

Linda Fabiani, another member of the Scottish Parliament, describes the impact attending a "fair trade" school has on children: "I was in the local co-op and heard a wee lad ask his mum about whether the orange juice she'd put in the basket was fair trade." Fabiani introduced herself, and the boy, who recognized her from a visit to his school, "proceeded to check everything in my basket, and thankfully I had fair trade goods, other than red wine."

According to Tearfund, unjust trade robs poorer nations of £1.3 ($2.52) billion every day. Scotland and Wales becoming "fair trade" won't fix this. But their citizens' habits and awareness will change, and for at least some developing world producers, life will no longer be mired in poverty. Clearly, though, the potential is not about bucks, but bang. When Scotland raises its voice about trade justice in the European Union and United Kingdom parliaments, when Welsh and Scottish businesses deal with suppliers and customers in other parts of the world, when—in a decade or two—kids who have been educated entirely at fair trade institutions start to run things themselves, the consequences could be huge.

All this began with Richard Adams throwing a very small stone into a very large ocean. Year after year the pebbles get bigger, as do the ripples. Pick up a rock.

For more information on fair trade status in the U.K., visit

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