26 August, 2014

Is cheapest always best? Can cheapest ever be best?

Is cheapest always best?
by Brad Hill, Fairtrade Strategy Development Manager at the Co-operative Group

As part of a series of blogs looking at the value consumers place on ethical credentials, Brad Hill, Fairtrade Strategy Development Manager at the Co-operative Group, asks us to take a journey back to the source of the things we buy...

Few of us get the chance to actually appreciate the true value of the products we consume. Is cheapest always best? Can cheapest ever be best? When you really think about it, can a banana be grown and transported from half way across the world and end up in shops at a bargain price to you of around 20p, with the true value being reflected throughout its journey and all involved paid fairly?

Often we are too busy to even think about it, let alone care. The hassle of the commute, merely time to grab a coffee on the way to the office, emails and a full diary to contend with, then hoping to be inspired in the supermarket on the way home picking up tonight's meal and a nice bottle of red wine to swill it down.

But wait. That coffee this morning. Did you know it started life as a seedling? Planted out by a smallholder farmer – perhaps  in Colombia – who nurtured it and then when the cherries on the tree were glowing red in the sun (yes coffee beans come from red 'cherries'), hand-picked then hand-milled to remove the two golden beans and then sun dried? Back breaking toil in uncomfortable heat on inclines amidst the scratching coffee shrubs. All this before being sacked up and sold at a price that may not even cover the cost of the farmer's production. Meaning he still can't pay off any of the loan he has had to take out to make ends meet between his two annual harvests.

I'm not trying to make you feel guilty – the coffee tastes great and it’s hardly your fault that the free market operates in this way.

Fairtrade can change that – and by guaranteeing that the sustainable cost of production is always covered, plus paying a little extra in premium for the farmer to improve his lot, all you need worry about is making sure you choose the Fairtrade option. It's that simple. Same great coffee, but sourced on Fairtrade terms meaning that the true value of the product has been considered.

And what about that wine you bought? Fairtrade wines continue to get great reviews alongside 'conventional' competitors. And with prices on a par, there's no reason not to try them. And if only you could have met one of the workers from South Africa or villagers from Argentina where Fairtrade is having a profound impact, then you would always choose the Fairtrade option.

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