Corporate Brands In Schools

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Is Fairtrade Fair?

Is it right to promote corporate brands such as Fairtrade in schools, churches and even as ‘Fairtrade towns’?

It’s Fairtrade Fortnight and son’s school has set him homework of designing a poster promoting Fairtrade. Sounds innocent enough but I’m concerned by how Fairtrade is being depicted as unambiguously good and I’d expect better of the school and the government (the curriculum driver?) regarding the promotion of corporate brands particularly within schools.

While the aims of Fairtrade are laudable enough, there is serious concern as to whether it really delivers. My main problem is the lack of transparency and the paucity of clear facts and figures. It’s just not that easy to say how effective or ineffective Fairtrade is, and so it’s hard to dispel the widespread allegations of corruption, bloated administration and secrecy, and the suggestion that the big guys keep most of the profit and divert little to the Third World.

About the only thing I’m sure of is that Fairtrade (successfully) exploits consumers desire to do the right thing and that, while Fairtrade is a not-for-profit, it’s certainly not a charity. Fairtrade the brand is a marketing juggernaut with an extensive legal team ready to bite (as the BBC found out after its programme “Is Fairtrade Really Fair?”). There’s certainly a place for encouraging children to question where their food comes from and who benefits most from international trade. But life is rarely entirely black or white and this canonisation of a single brand especially in a school strikes me as inappropriate.

If you’d like your kids to understand a bit more about the complexities of globalisation I’d highly recommend the book Made On Earth by Wolfgang Korn. Suitable for ages 8+ It’s about manufacturing (as opposed to food imports) but the story is similar – It’s a about people, their livelihoods’ and their life expectations through the journey of a single item of clothing.

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Click to learn more: The book Made on Earth: What we wear. Where it comes from. Where it goes ….photographed with my brown gardening fleece (not for sale!). This fleece is more than 20 years old – it’s even been up Mount Everest (not worn by me!) but that’s another story.