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Ethical, fair trade, single origin – What is it all about?

World Vision
16 December 2014 by Ruth Dearnley
Ethical, fair trade, single origin – What is it all about?

Shopping ethically doesn't have to be complicated if you know which certifications to trust. Photo by Lucy Aulich, World Vision

At this time of year I want to avoid the crowds and run out of the shops as quickly as possible. That means it can be easy to get overwhelmed by the various claims of being ‘ethical’, ‘ethically certified’ ‘fairly traded’ or ‘single origin’ and so on.

Sometimes people think that must mean making a trade-off between finding the most ethical products. But it doesn’t have to be.

So, here is my foolproof guide to cutting through the marketing spin and knowing exactly what you are buying. In fact, it’s handy all year round to ensure you have an ethical supply of your favourite treats!

Fairly traded products
‘Fair trade’ is a market-based approach that promotes better trading conditions and sustainability for farmers and producers in developing countries. It aims to improve labour and environmental standards and educate workers to improve their skills, product and subsequently profit. In order to prove a product is fairly traded, ethical certification is the best thing to check for.

Ethical certification
This is the most credible assurance against the use of forced, child and trafficked labour. It occurs when a product gets a certification from an independent organisation saying the product is fairly traded and sourced using ethical practices.

Look out for these trusted logos when you shop:

Be careful to read the small print around other logos claiming ethical status. Sometimes companies set up their own brand of ‘certification’, but these don’t always guarantee full transparency on sourcing practices.

Here are my go-to guides for some essentials for holiday season entertaining!
Good Chocolate Guide
Good Coffee Guide
Good Tea Guide
For other household goods, download the Shop Ethical! app.

Single Origin or Direct Source
Single origin products have ingredients from just one place. Direct source may have ingredients from more than one place, but the supplier (i.e. the branded coffee company) has a direct relationship with the producing communities – cutting out the middle man. Both mean that the company knows exactly where the producing community is. That could mean a better deal for farmers, as companies can oversee conditions far easier than if they had a complex supply chain. However, unlike ethically certified products, there is no requirement for companies to implement ethical labour standard and no independent third-party giving an honest assessment of the conditions. So the consumer is forced to rely on the company’s word alone. Some may have very good intentions but without a standardised and transparent endorsement, it is impossible to tell whether they are doing the right thing, or just saying it.

If it’s impossible for me to buy ethically certified and I have to by Single Origin or Direct Source, I make sure I leave the store owner one of these cards to encourage them to look into ethical certification.

Simple! Now you know the difference, it’s easy to make sure you don’t fall for the marketing spin and actually get the most ethical product available!

Happy shopping!

Ruth Dearnley Ruth Dearnley

Ruth is the former Public Advocacy Manager at World Vision Australia and a passionate advocate for all the little things we can all do to make a more just world.


3 Responses

  • […] On You brand ratings are based on recognised certification schemes like Fair Trade and Choose Cruelty Free, and robust independent rankings by NGO projects like […]

  • Chris says:

    Hi Ruth, so do these ethical products also take into consideration the environmental considerations of ingredients like PALM OIL that is eating up the rain forests and killing the wildlife therein like Orangutans, Tigers, Elephants, Pangolins etc?

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