Children need to be learning about fair trade as an aspect of sustainability

learn sustainability

Yesterday (21 February) was the start of Fairtrade Fortnight, which runs until 6 March. Fairtrade Fortnight is a promotional campaign which runs every year, organised by the Fairtrade Foundation to increase awareness of Fairtrade products. ‘Fairtrade’ (one word) is an international certification system. ‘Fair trade’ (two words) is a concept that puts ethical considerations at the heart of commerce and trade. It is arguably more important than ever in today’s hyper-globalised economic system. It is also an essential element of any meaningful definition of sustainability. Children and young people need to know about fair trade as part of a fully rounded curriculum that puts the environment and our relationship with the planet — and with each other — at the very heart of learning.

Fair trade is about ensuring that we pay a fair price for goods and services, that the raw materials involved in the products we consume are responsibly sourced, and that the workers involved at every stage of the production and supply chains are treated with dignity and respect, including being paid a decent wage.

Like green issues in general, fair trade was initially an idea found languishing on the fringes of the political left, a response to the (past and present) economic injustices of colonialism and capitalism, and a way of trying to ensure that the world’s richest countries dealt more fairly with those that we used to label the ‘Third World’. Nowadays, fair trade is firmly in the mainstream. It is no longer acceptable to knowingly exploit the poor and disadvantaged, or even to turn a blind eye to unethical practices or claim ignorance. As we wrote in our recent blog about supermarket sustainability league tables:

Shoppers nowadays are increasingly enquiring about the provenance of products — in effect, looking to carry out ethical and sustainability audits of their own before handing over their money. Businesses understand the importance of drawing up codes of ethical practice and usually respond quickly to negative publicity around issues such as unsustainable sourcing or unacceptable working practices, however remote these might be down the supply chain.

League-table information about sustainability is useful if handled with care

The Fairtrade Foundation is a UK-based charity established in 1992. It licenses use of the Fairtrade Mark on products in the UK in accordance with internationally agreed Fairtrade standards. Its website is packed with information about the Fairtrade certification system, about the work that Fairtrade does, and about how individuals, business and communities can make a difference.

The website includes an excellent section specifically for schools:

Visit our free teaching resource library to access a range of lesson plans, assembly plans, films, activities and games. Our teaching tools are designed to support learning about Fairtrade and global issues at all key stages and levels, from nursery through to secondary school. Register for a Fairtrade School Award to gain recognition for your school’s work on Fairtrade.

from the Fairtrade Foundation website

Traidcraft — “the home of fair trade products” — describes itself as a fair-trade pioneer, “proving that fair trade could work commercially”. It was a co-founder of the Fairtrade Foundation. It says it puts three themes at the heart of its decision-making:

  • trade justice
  • social justice
  • environmental justice

Its fair-trade principles include: (1) payment of a fair price (2) creating opportunities for economically disadvantaged producers (3) ensuring that no child labour or forced labour is used (4) respecting the environment.

Life-Based Learning emphasises the importance of children and young people learning much more than at present about climate change, sustainability and the environment and nature more generally, as part of a fully rounded, life-based curriculum. Such a curriculum will help them adopt the skills, values and practices that ensure they are able to live sustainable lives in harmony with the needs of the planet.

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