Fair go important in trade

By Celeste Gorrell Anstiss

File photo / Martin Sykes
File photo / Martin Sykes

Everybody loves a bargain - but that's not all they love.

New research shows Kiwis are starting to recognise the human price of cheap goods and are voting with their wallets by shopping at High Street retailers that can vouch for the conditions under which their products were grown or made.

Fair trade-certified factories or plantations have to provide safe and reasonable working conditions and pay a "fair" wage.

A Colmar Brunton survey found seven out of 10 shoppers said they would choose a fair-trade product over a standard product if given the choice.

But advertisers are cottoning on to the popularity of fair trade and the market is at risk of being flooded with wannabe goods, much like the "green-washing" phenomenon.

University of Auckland marketing lecturer Mike Lee said organisations such as Fair Trade and Trade Aid offered independent certification that products were produced ethically.

But he warned some smaller companies might not be able to afford the price of fair-trade certification.

"The small [companies] get crowded out," Lee said.

British-based Fair Trade campaigner Harriet Lamb, who was visiting New Zealand last week, welcomed any improvements to workers' conditions in the developing world - but stressed that independent certification kept companies honest.

"We are not just a marketing sticker," Lamb said. "We are the best and the most rigid."

Until now, the key challenge for fair trade had been making the customer feel the product was worth paying extra for. Unlike organic food, which Lee said won over consumers because it was healthier, buying fair trade was a selfless decision.

A 2008 Globe Scan survey showed 59 per cent of Kiwis would pay more for products that had been independently certified as fair trade - but most were not prepared to pay more than 5 per cent extra for them.

"People are willing to pay 100 per cent more for organic, because there's that element of self-interest," Lee said. "It's hard to base a decision right now on what's going on for someone 5000km away. It's a trade-off we all face."

While fair trade was initially seen as a premium product demanding a much higher price, many certified goods these days come at only a small additional cost, if any.

This week, a 100-pack of fair-trade certified tea bags cost 60c more than the standard product at Foodtown. "Ethical" coffee and chocolate were within cents of the standard products, though the non-ethical products were often discounted on special.

Kiwi company All Good sells 30,000 certified fair-trade bananas each week and a bunch was about $1 more than the price of a standard bunch.

Founder Simon Coley said his bananas seemed identical to a standard bunch, so consumers needed to understand the reason they were paying more.

"If something is really cheap, someone else is paying the cost. Workers in big plantations are paid less than $3 a day," he said.

Despite All Good's success, the bananas were yet to be taken on by Progressive Enterprises, which own Foodtown, Woolworths and Countdown.

"They're waiting to see there's enough demand before they make a commitment. I guess we understand where they're coming from, but demand is also about making them available to people," Coley said.

All Good bananas are available at most New World stores.

- Herald on Sunday

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