Sales of fair trade products, which aim to give a better deal to farmers in developing countries, grew by more than 50% in the UK last year.
The Fairtrade Foundation promises consumers that farmers in the developing world are paid a fair price for their goods - even when world prices are low.
In 2004 British shoppers bought fair trade goods worth more than £140m including coffee, tea, chocolate and bananas.
Do you buy fair trade products, if so - why? What do you think about fair trade? How does it affect your shopping and eating habits?
This debate is now closed. Thank you for your comments.
The knowledge that the producer has been paid a fair price for their commodity adds value to the product. Market forces are showing that people are willing to pay extra for fairly traded goods, the supermarkets are responding. Wow, the market is being used to promote socialist principles, this is wonderful.
Chris G, Cambridge UK
Sorry, but I have been made too cynical by the "organic" scam that promotes dubious products, often shipped in from less well regulated areas, just so shops can increase the margin and make more money by making people think they are getting a better product. So nope I am not convinced!
Some of the comments here from Europeans and Americans are quite laughable, considering that these are the two "states" of the Western world that have the greatest protection of their farmers. Here's an idea, if you want to help the poor farmers of the world, lobby your government to get rid of tariffs and quotas, then there wouldn't be a need for any of this! Whilst buying these products might relieve your guilt, the truth is it benefits few!
James Squire, Melbourne, Australia
I don't see how they are allowed to call these products 'fair trade' under the Trade Descriptions Act. Surely 'fair trade' is paying a fair market price for the goods, not paying an artificially high price to become more politically correct?
David Russell, Glasgow, Scotland
I do not, because I view the label "fair trade" to be incredibly hypocritical. True fair trade would be free trade, where no one receives any help. This is not what "fair trade" is.
Nik, Godstone, UK
Yes, our family have adjusted our spending habits to buy organic and fair trade items first. Fair trade is a great idea.
Josué Guerra, São Luís, MA, Brazil
Sheffield University Students' Union opened Britain's first exclusively fair trade coffee shop nearly four years ago - it now has three branches - and both the union and university now have fair trade status. Fair trade is a great idea, though it concerns me slightly that giving money to fair trade producers means less money is going to compensate the non-fair trade producers who already sell their wares at a loss. Still, as demand shifts hopefully more producers will become fair trade.
Graham Haynes, Sheffield, UK
Yes, my wife, my grown children and I have adjusted our spending habits to buy organic and fair trade items first. It means going to more than one store or ordering from more than one company, but we have no choice but to do the right thing, do you?
Robert Allen, Grand Haven, MI, USA
Fortunately, here in the states, we don't have so-called "fair trade" goods ... and I, for one, would only buy them if they had some market attribute that attracted me in the first place (price or quality).
Mark M. Newdick, UK/US
Of course. If I can afford luxuries like coffee, tea, and chocolate, I can afford to spend the extra 50p to ensure that the producers received a profit that may not have been entirely 'fair' but was at least slightly increased.
Monique, Bristol, UK
I would recommend that anyone who want to buy fair trade products, do so from any other source, not supermarkets. I personally think that supermarkets have jumped on the bandwagon of fair trade and consequently pushed the price up to cover extra profit form them. Personally, I buy from my local church.
Robert Wallis, Milton Keynes, Bucks
What's "fair" to me is paying a reasonable price for the goods I'm purchasing. Adding a few percent on the cost just to salve the conscience of some cocktail-party philanthropist seems not only ridiculous, but also bad business. Perhaps if the prices were all the same, then trade would be truly "fair" and the consumer would be left to make the choice of quality, not cost, when purchasing their goods. Of course, this is all dependent on the consumer being able to make that decision.
Ian, Brit in USA
Generally yes, but like organic food, why do you have to pay extra and beyond normal prices for the goods. Low income families would not be able to afford this. Like organic food, it is the price that matters, not inclination
J Smith, Sussex
Unbelievable comments from those saying struggling farmers should simply switch to a different crop. "Free trade" on the global stage means "free" to build massive multi-national empires with the power to crush both prices and producers. If a coffee farmer has battled all their life to tend a tiny hillside plantation with the help of their hungry children - simply switching crops is not an option - unless you believe "free trade" should embrace "free starvation".
Rob Wicks, Bristol, UK
Yes, I buy fair trade products, and encourage everyone I know to do so too. People regularly comment on how nice my coffee is, and I take great delight in telling them that it's fair trade! York has recently been awarded the status of a 'Fair Trade City' thanks to the widespread support that fair trade enjoys in the city, and the number of outlets selling fairly traded goods. Keep it up, and we may make a difference despite the few gloomy people on this message board!
Sarah B, York, UK
There's an important distinction to be made here between free trade and fair trade. They are not the same thing. Free trade agreements are imposed by the WTO for the benefit of rich countries, while ostensibly appearing to help poor countries. The Fair Trade movement is a product of the complete imbalance of power that our supposedly free market system has created.
Lloyd Evans, Brighton, UK
Yes we do. And we do most of our food shopping at our local Co-op even though we also have a Tesco and a Kwik Save in the town as the Co-op is way ahead of the others in ethical sourcing. Not just imported food is in their fairly traded policy but from UK growers as well.
Catherine Davies, Minehead, England
Fair trade coffee is the first coffee that actually had a taste I enjoyed. It wasn't anymore the necessary stuff to stay awake, but actually a positive taste experience. And let's face it - many of us can afford fair trade alternatives. So in retrospect I ask, why not?
Kyuu Eturautti, Tampere, Finland
Absolutely not! It is an ill-conceived idea founded in ignorance of economics. It is Marxism at its grassroots level. Only fools pay more money than the market dictates because of their pathetic guilt over how much a farmer makes. The market will take care of it self by discouraging over production of a commodity that leads to low prices.
This will make coffee growing for example less lucrative and will put pressure on the local farmers to produce something else. Instead we give incentives to want to produce more coffee? Clearly another example of Marxist principles exhibiting their inherent lack of understanding of economic reality.
Michael, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Free trade is fair trade, by definition. Why are government regulations needed for a contract between two private individuals? Government should only provide a mechanism for mediation and enforcement of contracts, not to actually set prices.
Steve, Jacksonville, FL, USA
I think it's disgusting that there is still such a thing as unfair trade. If the Western world was truly developed, there shouldn't be any need for fair trade products, in the same way that there shouldn't be a need for charities. At the end of the day, money is considered more important than people.
Andrew, Stafford, UK
I only purchase fair trade products where those products are superior or healthier. Fair trade does not automatically equal quality!
I agree that fair trade and organic products are often expensive, but as someone who lives in a rich Western nation, on a less than average salary, but with a roof over my head and enough money to eat at least three meals a day, I can hardly complain about paying a little more to help out my fellow man. Let's not forget that farmers in 'developing' countries have just as much right to earn enough money to provide themselves and their families with shelter and sufficient food as we do.
Rache Blue, London
To me, the fair trade ideology is like fixing a leaking cup by pouring more water into it. Rather than solve the problem, I think it is actually making it worse. If governments of developed countries would abandon their "protectionist" strategies in favour of free trade, these farmers would be able to sell their products at a fair price, and we wouldn't have to spend anything extra.
Laura, IA, USA
It seems extreme, but I eat only organic, fair trade, vegetarian products. The extra price is worth it after you see documentaries of the way local traders have been exploited and maltreated. No matter how little I earned I'd still buy as much fair trade as possible, even if I had to eat a lot less because of that choice. Feeling a bit peckish is a small price to pay to help support someone's livelihood.
Absolutely. It is vital we spend a few more pennies on purchasing "fair trade" products. Besides helping the Farmers more directly, the products taste better and I feel better for helping the small trader as opposed to the huge conglomerates.
Chris Kisch, Milton Keynes, UK
I buy several fair trade products and believe that the third world countries involved should be given the opportunity to earn a fair living from their endeavours rather than being ripped off by our super markets and their "middlemen".
Martin Carey, Cwmbran, Wales
Ultimately, the only way to help these farmers when it comes to prices paid for the crops is to put an end to overproduction. Overproduction is caused mainly by agricultural subsidies, as governments try to shield their farmers from price drops and in doing so cause them to produce ever more. Let the market decide the prices and prices will then rise to a level that gives third world farmers a decent profit.
Graeme Phillips, Guildford, UK
I think it's easy for people here to make rash judgments about third world farmers without any actual knowledge of the circumstances these people work in. Prices are governed by traders in New York or London, and so a farmer may have his entire years work written off nearly, simply because men in suits thousands of miles away have decided his crop is worth less than it cost to produce. Add to this other hazards such as weather and land prices and it's not hard to see why people with a conscience choose fair trade.
No. If we were actually concerned with aiding the developing world, we would allow them open access to our markets. Rather than fair trade, which helps the few, while leaving many still without the basic level to exist on, we would be better aiming for free trade, getting rid of CAP tariffs, and opening the European markets to them.
Tim Robinson, Essex
No, there is a fundamental problem with fair trade products. By guaranteeing to buy at a set price from a small number of farmers, the remaining farmers that are not included in the fair trade scheme lose out due to the rules of supply and demand, as there is typically overproduction in these markets.
Dan, Northampton, UK
I'd like to see fair treatment of all farmers, whether from the developing world or from right here. They do provide the food for us all to eat.
Supermarkets presumably ensure they make approximately the same margin on both fair trade and non-fair trade equivalent products. Since it makes little or no difference to them which we choose, greater fair trade sales should inevitably result in them stocking more of these products. Until there is a fair world "free market", this seems the only way that growers in developing countries can get a reasonable deal, whatever they grow. Currently, world markets are unfairly rigged against local growers, through trade barriers and tariffs.
Teresa Fowler, Hailsham, Sussex
Yes - Consumers are also responsible for the food 'put on our supermarket shelves', if more of us spent that little extra on these products, then maybe one day this would extend to our own farmers. When shopping we encourage our children to look for these products...
Gill Kilshaw, Biggleswade, Beds
Yes, I consider it my moral responsibility to support fair trading. I wish that bananas weren't put in plastic bags though - not very green.
Stephanie Clarke, Cambridge, UK
Never heard of them until discussed on Radio 4 this morning. Sounds like a good idea if advertised a bit better.
We buy fair trade products whenever we can, shopping preferably in small, independent traders and avoiding the big players whose trading tactics cause us concern.
Dennis Gound, Bedford, UK
Anyone who is properly committed to the Fair Trade principle should purchase these products from Oxfam. That way the retailer's profit margin also goes to helping underprivileged people in the developing world instead of ending up inflating the share dividends of supermarket fat cats.
Stephen Benyunes, London, UK
No, they are too expensive. I have to live too.
Tony Humphreys, Prestatyn, UK
Yes I buy Fairtrade goods, mostly from the stall in our church, but also, to those who say they cannot find them, a lot of the Oxfam stores carry a range of these, albeit somewhat limited.
Peggy, Rochester, Kent
No, I don't buy fair trade. Fair trade is a pernicious fad based on age-old socialist fallacies. The only fair trade is free trade - two people exchanging goods and services entirely of their own free will (after all, if a truly voluntary transaction did not benefit both sides, it would not take place). The only way to make trade genuinely fair is to make it genuinely free.
Sheffield is really well stocked to buy Fairtrade goods- not only do the supermarkets sell the general coffee and tea produces. The universities and local fruit and veg shops also sell Fairtrade - its just a question of looking, and generally its at a really good price and quality.
Kt , Sheffield
I tried fair trade orange juice once - it was disgusting so won't be sampling any more fair trade products.
Shane, Northwood, Middlesex, UK
What bothers me about "fair" trade products is that I they don't disclose exactly how much extra (above the going rate) they pay their suppliers. Are we to rely on their discretion on what is to be deemed fair? What proportion of the extra one pays on such produce goes to the suppliers?
Simon Maynard, Exeter, UK
Organic, fair trade, and -wherever possible - locally grown. No sweatshop clothing. People say it must be very expensive, but when you don't buy meat, dairy products, alcohol or junk food, and try to curb your excesses, you end up coming out ahead.
Kaz, Briton in NJ, USA
I started buying Fair Trade products on a token basis long ago, but now all my coffee, cocoa, sugar, etc. is Fairtrade because I have found it is just as good, if not better, than the unfair stuff, and the additional cost is hardly big enough to notice, so I would urge readers to try it if they haven't already.
Chetan Bhatt, Cheltenham, UK
The best way to help these farmers is to cut developed states' protectionism. Scrap the CAP and these farmers could sell to us without having to face high tariffs. We get cheap food, they get a market. Win, win, win.
Will Payling, Torbay, Devon
I buy Fairtrade tea, coffee and chocolate. I would like to see a similar system for certifying UK and European produce which have given farmers a deal. Farmers here are going out of business in droves here because of the appalling prices they get for their produce.
Sylvia, Redhill, UK
Yes because it is socially responsible to do so. The developed world should stop unfairly exploiting the developing world.
Harry Lewis, Cheltenham, Glos
Any retail name that was truly committed to the fair trade principle wouldn't offer the consumer a choice in the first place. There seems little point in picking up the more expensive pack of coffee when the same product next to it is 50 pence cheaper. Short of placing charity boxes at checkouts, if this is to really work long-term then supermarkets will have to take the bold step of removing cheaper options from their shelves altogether.
Patrick V. Staton, Guildford, UK
One must be aware of feel good marketing ploys verses how much money actually ends up in the farmers' pockets. I'll bet the supermarkets make more money on the jar of coffee than the guy with the soil on his hands.
Paul, Cambridge UK
No, what's the point, I'd prefer to buy something that was guaranteed disease and toxin free than something that the farmer got paid extra for. Simple economics, if the stuff is too cheap, they will farm something else and the price will rise again, the current load of farmers being paid unfair prices for, for example, coffee is a symptom of the original greed of these farmers cashing in on an expensive crop and now complaining that they cannot make a livelihood from it. Why pay more to support extra farmers. Give it to the starving children instead. Break the cash crop cycle, and maybe there will be enough food for them!
Yes, I buy the "Fairtrade version" when I see it. My wife is from South America, I've seen the poverty levels that all too many people there live at. It's rather different seeing it live than on a television advert. No "regular" item costs so much less than the Fairtrade equivalent that I'm not willing to play fair with the grower. I believe in paying a fair price for what I buy. I mean, I would want the same treatment!
Carl, Cambridge, UK
Where I can, I buy Fairtrade, and have done since the first Fairtrade product was endorsed ten years ago. I would like to see the government doing more to promote Fair Trade!
Dave Wilson, Stockport, UK
Absolutely. Fair trade should be the rule not the exception. It's a small but important gesture I can make in redressing the obscene disparities in wealth between greedy developed nations and third world countries. All supermarkets should stock a better range of these products.
I always buy fair trade when I can. Often the price difference is negligible, but I believe it makes a real difference to the producers. My only peeve: Why is there no tea that is both fair trade and organic? I go with the fair trade brands but I wish that there was an organic fair-trade option.
Chris Q, Bradford, England
Yes I buy Fair trade products. Every month we have a store at our Church, where we have a range of products from coffee to biscuits, cereal etc. I buy these because not only are the growers getting there fair pay but because the products are excellent, and it a pity the big supermarkets don't have larger sections on fair trade products but until they do I will buy all my fair trade produce in Church.
Penny Coleman, Cardiff Wales
I tend to do all of my shopping from the local shops where I live and they don't seem to sell anything that's fair trade. If I was given a choice then I would buy fair trade but the only places I see the logo is at the Glastonbury festival.
Hardly likely to make an impact in our world today. I think Britain buys more bananas each week worth more than the annual turnover of "fair trade" in Britain. The major supermarket chains are intent on making profits rather than promoting fair trade. See the banana oligopoly with the US majors. The attitude is to not promote fair trade with some poor nations, but just fair trade.
Murli , Vienna
I often purchase Fair Trade bananas. Other than being better for the workers in terms of pay, the bananas actually taste better.
Paul Bateman, Oxford
I buy fair trade when I need to, but the range of products are very limited - tea, coffee, bananas and chocolate. I have also yet to find fair trade bananas that are certified organic, so it's a tough choice. Ideally, if you want to buy fair trade then please buy them at places other than supermarkets - they may be giving the farmer a fair deal on these few products, but exploiting them on the other thousands of products in their stores.
I buy the best quality product at the best price possible. To my mind if a producer cannot compete effectively in the market without a 'guilt' subsidy they should reconsider their position and direct their efforts to a more competitive product. My taxes are already misspent in writing-off third world debt and overseas aid so just how much more of my money should I spend to prop up uncompetitive producers?
Trevor, Cambs, UK
My husband and I buy fair trade tea. We buy it not only to help the farmers in developing countries but also because it is the best tasting tea on the market.
I certainly do and the growth in Fair Trade sales, like the public Tsunami donations, is a tribute to British mentality.
David Ball, Wokingham, Berkshire
Yes, as much as I can. Coffee, tea, chocolate, dried fruit. Not only do they allow you to shop with a clear conscience, they usually taste delicious too. It's just a shame that supermarkets, coffee shops etc. don't stock more fair trade produce to make it easier for the consumers to choose fair trade.