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Why this banana is evil

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This popular fruit may seem innocent but it’s been accused of corruption and exploitation. However, buy his Fairtrade cousin and you can help change the world. Stylist explains...

Words: Amy Grier

Last week, over Sunday lunch, I asked a few friends, “What do you know about Fairtrade?” I was met with blank faces. We had chosen this particular gastropub because it served biodynamic wine, corn-fed Suffolk chicken and hand-reared Wiltshire lamb. In a nutshell: we knew the family lineage of our lunch, the field our roast potatoes weregrown in, and the name of the cow that produced our cheese.

But unfortunately, Fairtrade hasn’t caught our attention in quite the same way as ‘locally sourced’, ‘artisan-produced’ or ‘organic’. Fed on a diet of Hugh’s Fish Fight and the five-a-day campaign, we know that sustainable pole-and-linecaught tuna is good, and that our strawberries should be from Dorset not China. Yet, how many of us are guilty of bypassing Fairtrade tea in favour of standard brew. The reality is when we do, we’re becoming instant hypocrites and overlooking a crucial movement, which can make a huge difference, simply because it doesn’t have the cool factor of ‘organic’.

The Fairtrade mantra is simple — what you buy affects others, thanks to unethical companies, practices and trading laws, which exploit the people who grow your bananas and produce your tea. The UK Fairtrade Foundation certifies companies that adhere to principles of fair prices for producers, fair wages for workers, plus a premium which they can decide how to spend as a collective. Enough to turn that evil banana’s frown upside-down. Here are the six Fairtrade staples you should switch to today…

BANANAS

Over the last decade, the supermarket price of non-Fairtrade bananas has fallen by over 40%, causing thousands of the world’s smallest producers to go bust. Many of those still in business, in places like the Windward Islands in the Caribbean, have had to cut corners, using harmful chemicals to yield bigger crops. “I met one woman, one of many who work on banana plantations, whose baby was deformed because of the chemicals she was exposed to during her pregnancy,” says Harriet Lamb, executive director of the Fairtrade Foundation. “Producers have a list of chemicals that have been banned by Fairtrade and because they are getting a fair price, they’re not tempted to cut corners.” Thankfully, both Waitrose and Sainsbury’s have a policy to sell only Fairtrade bananas (which we used in our rather delicious Fairtrade banana bread), so if you want a non-evil one, it’s that simple: head there.

TEA & COFFEE

When you consider we go through 165 million cups of tea and 70 million mugs of coffee a day in the UK, embracing Fairtrade for a caffeine hit is an obvious way to make a massive difference. Not only that, but it’s especially beneficial to the women who work on Fairtrade plantations (women make up 50% of the tea production workforce, the highest percentage of all Fairtrade products, while more than 25% of all Fairtrade coffee farmers are female). The extra few pennies it might cost you to go Fairtrade will probably go to a working woman and her family in Uganda, Ethiopia, Guatemala or Tanzania. Plus, it’s a simple switch to make – all of Starbucks’ espresso-based drinks use Fairtrade beans; Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and M&S have great ranges and artisan producers are listed at fairtrade.org.uk.

COTTON

We’re not suggesting you change your entire wardrobe. Instead, think about the things you replace most often: white T-shirts, vest-tops, socks and knickers. Those are the things you could easily start buying Fairtrade and you can find them anywhere from Asos and Topshop to Tesco and M&S. In Mali, where cotton is the main export, the impact of Fairtrade is palpable. On average, only four out of 10 children go to school, as either their parents can’t afford for them not to work or there isn’t enough money to build the schools. In the Mali villages where there are Fairtrade co-ops, nine out of 10 children go to school and more schools are being built every month.

FLOWERS

One of the newest additions to the market, Fairtrade flowers were first sold in the UK in 2004 but you can now buy them at Interflora, Ocado, John Lewis and Sainsbury’s. It might not be something you buy every week but the impact of switching to Fairtrade on the 55,000 people (mostly women) employed in Kenya’s flower trade, when you do, is amazing. “One village I visited had no electricity before they became Fairtrade,” Lamb told Stylist. “They now have solar panels on their roofs so they can cook without spending an arduous two hours gathering wood or they can charge their mobile phones (in Kenya, most people are paid via their mobile phone) without having to walk five miles to the neighbouring village.”

CHOCOLATE

Our sweet-tooth addiction means the UK chocolate market is now worth over £3.7 billion but as most of the money is made after the cocoa beans get turned into chocolate bars, most cocoa growers only receive around 6% of the price we pay for our afternoon sugar hit. Thankfully, this is the easiest area in which to switch to a Fairtrade option. Cadbury’s Dairy Milk bars, Buttons (and Giant Buttons) as well as 12 other classic favourites are now Fairtrade. Four-finger KitKats are also Fairtrade (KitKat Chunkys are not) and Fairtrade brands such as Green & Black’s and Divine are available in most supermarkets. More boutique Fairtrade offerings can be found at Artisan du Chocolat and Daylesford Organic.

WINES & SPIRITS

We all enjoy a glass of red but what if the bottle you buy did some good? There are 250 Fairtrade wines on sale in the UK, from Chile, Argentina and South Africa, and Fair Spirits, the world’s first Fairtrade spirit range (fairspirits.com), recently launched with the potential to have a startling impact. “In South Africa, wine production has been crucial in overcoming the legacy of apartheid,” says Lamb. “Fairtrade producers have to sign up to a black equality programme as well as the usual Fairtrade premium elements.” It brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘drink responsibly’.

Learn more at step.fairtrade.org.uk

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