Perhaps one of the most fundamental attributes of the fair trade movement, transparency is the cornerstone for any successful enterprise within our field. The need for this virtue stems from the intentional obstruction large corporations have historically made in getting to know their supply chain. The ability for the average consumer to know how their products are being produced was not even available until a few decades ago. This is mostly due to large businesses pulling from massive pools of unskilled foreign labor. The uptick in modern consumer consciousness, however, has necessitated openness in terms of how a business functions across multiple levels.
Environmental awareness has been on the rise among the majority of buyers for the past two decades. This is not just in regards to pollution, but in terms of overall sustainability. A modern example of the overlap between transparency and environmental sustainability has been shown by Loren McClenachan with her team’s research on fair trade fishing. Published in 2016 by the journal Fish and Fisheries, their research discovered a viable market for socially responsible and ecologically protective fishing. Fair trade fish is probably not at the forefront of everyone’s mind when looking at global labor practices, but this research does highlight an important factor when it comes to the direction of fair trade.
The article demonstrated that explicitly labeling a product as certified fair trade causally relates to an increased willingness to pay a higher price and continuously patronize the establishment. As stated by McClenachan, “Specific or certified labels carried a premium over the vague labels across all three types of sustainability, suggesting that certification and specificity are valued by consumers” (McClenachan, 833)Seeing that the intuitions of many fair trade business people have been scientifically validated, what does that allow us to take away and apply to our stores and companies? For one thing it demonstrates that consumers are affected by the lucidity of how we market our company and products. Simply stating that something is “socially responsible” will not carry the same weight as being “certified fair trade.” Assuring our customers a transparent process from artisan to store will help increase overall sales. Maintaining this transparency will also promote repeat customers which every store owner knows is the best kind of buyer. If we now see how to develop consumer trust in our brand and products, how do we begin to involve them in that process?
One of the themes I have carried through these posts is that consumer involvement in fair trade is crucial for its global development. Artisans and producers cannot be involved in our customers lives until the customers are involved in the suppliers’ life. Next month we will look at how important consumer involvement is for socially responsible shopping and what practices will optimize that activity.
Source: McClenachan, Loren, Sahan T M Dissanayake, and Xiaojie Chen. "Fair trade fish: consumer support for broader seafood sustainability." Fish and Fisheries, vol. 17, no. 3. 2016, 825-838.