Thursday, 21 October 2010

"The Ethical Option"

If you had asked me twenty five years ago what do I think about Fairtrade or Rainforest Alliance organisations I'd probably have given you a fairly puzzled look as the former had probably only just made it onto the scene and the latter hadn't even been heard of. 


Well twenty five years on both these organisations have made huge impacts on our lives and the lives of those people producing the goods. Both organisations have worked hard to ensure that they are at the forefront of our consciousness when making what might seem simple and mundane decisions. It seems that every facet of our lives is connected to two or three main organisations. A lot of us make and are making critical, life changing decisions about how we live our lives based solely on whether a product has been ethically sourced or not. Nowadays if you're building a house you might not be considered PC if you didn't consider whether your house was environmentally friendly in terms of aesthetics, materials it uses and the energy it consumes. 


If you are feeling adventurous you can even decide to go on an environmentally friendly holiday and you can offset your carbon emissions by donating money to plant x number of trees. 


If you are an office worker and you're lucky enough to have a catering facility on site you'll be aware of the various Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives that take place for example, 'free range eggs', Fairtrade bananas, Fairtrade chocolate, Rainforest Alliance coffee and the list goes on ad infinitum. We can't seem to get enough of it! 


Many people probably wonder why it's important to buy goods that have a Fairtrade or Rainforest Alliance certification logo on it. Well many 'cash crops' such as tea, coffee, chocolate and bananas come from third world countries where workers are paid a pittance and poverty and very poor standards of living are rife. Many of the workers that produce these crops have been exploited in the past and without such organisations their lives and those of their families would be unbearable. The richer European and American countries have it tough at the moment but nothing can compare with what some families have to endure in the third world.


Both Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance organisations have a place in the market and both deserve top billing. If you are in any doubt as to what these organisations do take a few minutes to visit their websites. In a simplistic way Fairtrade ensures farmers receive a fair price for their products and that exploitation is stamped out. The Rainforest Alliance ensures that the environment in  which these crops are grown is managed in such a way that it remains sustainable and allows ecosystems to flourish and species to thrive. Alongside this the RA also ensures a fair price is paid for goods. Employees are trained and tutored on how to maintain standards and farm productively. Buying these products doesn't mean you have to take a drop in quality and this was proven to me when I started using Rainforest Alliance dark and milk chocolate sourced from a certified farm in Costa Rica. Both types of chocolate have exceptional taste and flavour. In my opinion I'm pleased that I've been able to bring this product to market even though it is on a very small scale in comparison to the big boys. 


Hugo Hermelink - Costa Rica
The larger conglomerates have quickly joined the ethical race much to the consternation of some environmental communities but they have helped to bring these products to the masses. Both Divine and Cadbury are excellent examples of how effective big companies are in helping to spread the word and make a big impact. Many will argue that big business has no place as they are only there to make a profit. Yes, the 'bottom line' is important to both shareholders and business but without innovative companies such as Divine and Green & Black's would we have come so far?


Many will argue that one organisation is better than the other and I'm sure there are issues with both but at least they're proactive and doing something about them. It's up to us to keep reminding them.


If we don't support these organisations when we buy that little bar of chocolate or that frothy cappuccino or flat white we run the risk of destroying and losing what has been gained over the past twenty five years. 


Making a decision not to buy ethically might seem insignificant to many even when times are tough but it could have a damaging and lasting effect on others for years to come especially if we don't take that ethical option today and tomorrow.


To find out more why might like to visit these sites:


Fairtrade
Rainforest Alliance