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It’s one of the most trusted organisations in the world, famed for being ethical and transparent. But what is the Fairtrade mark really saying?

We’ve all seen it: the Fairtrade symbol that graces the face of many products throughout New Zealand. Stuff like bananas, chocolate, coffee, spices, sugar and a load of other commodities. That certification mark comes straight from Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand who belong under the FLO (Fairtrade Labelling Organisation International) umbrella; an organisation that is advocating for better working conditions in developing countries. They are also thoroughly and independently audited to ensure nobody is cutting corners on ethical trading.

According to the Fairtrade Australia/New Zealand website:

“As Fairtrade requires businesses to pay a fair price to farmers for their crop… Fairtrade is leveling the playing field for farmers to ensure they can improve their livelihoods and strengthen their businesses.”

I thought that sounded pretty sweet, but what does that actually look like? Let’s take chocolate, for example (because we all love a bit of sale price Whittakers). Firstly, a cocoa farmer in Ghana will approach Fairtrade, where they will then collaboratively come up with a minimum price for the cocoa that is being produced, as well as a market value at the time of selling. A company such as Whittakers can then come along and decide they want to make their ‘Dark Ghana’ chocolate bars Fairtrade certified, thus Fairtrade will link the two up and monitor the trading process and payments. The Ghanian farmer is now receiving the market value amount for their product, and Whittakers can slap a Fairtrade certification on the front (all the while, the previously negotiated minimum price will provide the farmer with financial protection from what can sometimes be a volatile economy).

Sounds like a win/win for everyone, which it is. However Fairtrade Australia/New Zealand CEO, Molly Harriss Olson, told me, “Fairtrade certifies products, not brands, so a brand may choose to only carry some products with the Fairtrade Mark.” The logic in this is understandable, yet makes one feel it could be easy for large companies to con their consumers. Whittakers, voted New Zealand’s most trusted brand last year, has only two bars out of their current 38 bar range labelled with a Fairtrade mark. A brand that Kiwis regard super highly and say they view as trustworthy and honest is failing to tell us where more than 80 percent of their cocoa comes from. Are we allowing this stamp to be nothing but an ethical token?

Fairtrade would again say otherwise. On top prices for the goods, Fairtrade also provides a premium to farmers, which is “an extra sum of money that farming cooperatives can democratically choose how to invest around their farms, businesses and communities.” Not only that, but Fairtrade farms also have to be environmentally conscious to meet certification, with standards requiring them to protect their surrounding natural habitat. A nod to the environment is definitely an exemplary step in the direction that many organisations should be following!

I guess what the chocolate addict in me is really trying to say is, “get your sh*t together Whittakers/Cadbury/Nestle and everyone else, and make all your chocolate Fairtrade.” The two percent fee that Fairtrade requires may seem steep, but is extremely worth it if you’re paying for a product that you can honestly be proud of.

A step from each of us is now required: Fairtrade, businesses, and us as consumers. Fairtrade needs to require full ethical certification rather than allowing a product by product basis. Businesses need to show initiative by tracing the roots of their supply chain and being transparent about where it comes from. And us, potentially the most crucial corner of this triangle, should be directing our consuming habits towards products we know are fair trade. I don’t know about you, but I don’t really like my ‘Dark Almond’ with a side of child labour.

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