What would Fair Trade 2.0 look like?

Over at the newly arrived 2gether08 website Steve Bridger has been musing about what Fair Trade 2.0 might look like.

The FAIRTRADE Mark changes peoples behavior by giving them information about the products they are buying. When you buy a product with a FAIRTRADE Mark on you know that the producer has been paid a fair price for their work, alongside a social premium to be invested in development projects in their community. But the Fair Trade movement is not just about changing people's buying decisions in the abstract – it is also about re-forging the connections between producer and consumer that get lost in a globalised market-driven world.

Whilst my jar of Fairtrade Coffee might provide me with a story about one of the producers involved in the co-op that made it – the social web could do a lot more – and that could bring on Fair Trade 2.0.

What might Fair Trade 2.0 look like?

1) Producer Stories
The short quote from Daniel Minaya Huaman on the back of my jar of Cafe Direct is great – but to really know where my coffee comes from – what if every producer was offering the sort of stories that I can find at From Crop 2 Cup?

Of course, you might ask just how many people are really going to go any look up all the items in their shopping basket online? When I was working for Just Fair Trade in Leicester we explored options for moving to an electronic point of sale system that would print information about the producers on customers receipts. If the stories were there – we would have been able to give customers a far stronger connection with the producer of the products they were buying.

2) Seeing the whole supply chain
Right now the FAIRTRADE Mark tells me about the original commodity producer – but it doesn't tell me the whole story. For example, I don't know the conditions in which the Fairtrade Cotton trousers I bought from M&S the other day were made – and whilst I know that the farmer of the coffee I'm drinking got more for her work that she would have selling a non-fair trade product – I don't know how much of the money went to the farmer.

That's one of the issues that projects like FairTracing are seeking to address – tracking and laying the whole supply chain open to see in Web 2.0 ways. Try this prototype for example.

Or when it comes to an audit trail – what about this system from coffee path that shows all the documentation from along the supply chain.

3) Better decision making information

Ever since I first saw the Corporate Fallout Detector I've been curious about the simple ways in which information about the ethics of a product can be presented to people at point of sale in a straightforward way.

There are two challenges:
a) The space available on packaging can make it tricky to present enough information to people when they are choosing between products. Often the information gets reduced to product marks (Organic, Fairtrade, Non-air-freight) from certifying bodies. But my ethical views may not be fully captured by the certifying marks available.

b) Even when I can get all the information I want about a product, the cognitive load of calculating and comparing products is often simply too much (I find myself wanting to go back to a simple certifying mark of some sort).

Improving decision making in Fair trade 2.0 could go a number of directions. It could go the Wiki-way being explored by WIBI.IT or we could find more advanced versions of the Ethiscore and Gooshing ideas that make it easy to order products according to your own ethical beliefs – as well as according to pre-set values.

4) Making connections
All the ideas above are about getting better Fair Trade information for the customer. But social media also presents massive potential opportunities for actual dis-intermediated connection between producer and consumer. As internet connectivity becomes more ubiquitous on the supply side – could I find myself following my coffee grower in Twitter, and competing in an eBay auction for a premium supply of chocolate beans? Could I be setting up a live chat with a grower, rather than just showing a slide-show when encouraging my workplace to switch to Fair Trade? The two-way role of social media in the future of fair trade is not something I've not yet given much thinking time to… but perhaps this is where the future really lies. The technology creates the connection… and then it can almost get out of the way…

5) What else?
What do you think lies in the future of Fair Trade? What will social media transform? What are the challenges ahead. I'm sure Steve would appreciate your comments over on the 2gether site – and I'd certainly welcome any reflections here…

Corporate Fallout Detector image from: http://www.jamespatten.com/cfd/

5 thoughts on “What would Fair Trade 2.0 look like?”

  1. The principal of Fair Trade is very worthy and its now a very strong brand – but thats what it primarily is for most people – a brand. A brand people that buy into because it gives a ‘fairer deal for the producers’.

    In terms of giving people more info I think the main information I would like is on the actual impact that providing that fairer deal is having on the wider community. Its easy to say poor people should be given more money – but what impact is that actually having? Are these people just a little richer but still in the same situations or are they using their increased wealth to somehow support the community around them?

    I’m not sure about the social media stuff – neither twitter or web chats would be practical with the groups we’ve worked with in Africa. Cellphone use is high but still relatively expensive and internet access is highly unreliable and mostly at dialup speed and certainly not accessible for those that are poorest.

    Overall I think the most successful approach is in the branding but more needs to be done to convince & inform about what impact Fair Trade purchases actually have.

  2. Great to have found you and your blog Tim! I volunteer with the Ottawa-Canada based coop, La Siembra, that markets 100% Fair Trade, organic cocoa and sugar products under the brand name Cocoa Camino. I also have a blog and podcast devoted to marketing the social economy using new and old techniques. I have been looking for examples of Fair Trade 2.0 for months and hadn’t found much until I found you through Google Alerts and you pointed me to From Crop 2 Cup. That’s exactly what I was looking for and what I think everyone should be doing. And if people feel they don’t have the time, they should work less on trying to get into the traditional media and more on this.
    Thanks for doing this!
    Robin Browne

  3. Thanks for the comment Robin.

    I’ve been thinking more about the possibilities for storytelling around FT since writing this post..

    One thing I’ve not yet found – but would love to – are good audio-stories of fair-trade products. Video is great – but it takes up a lot of attention to interact with – whereas just about every time I go into the kitchen I put the radio on. What if when I bought a FT product for the first time I could listen to a 10 minute podcast about it and hear from the producer whilst I’m cooking it up into something…

  4. This is a really interesting post!

    Where I work we’re all about driving progressive change through Fairtrade education by amplifying the voices of small scale producers. We’re particularly interested in using new technologies to create fun educational experiences.

    My charity was set up by Divine Chocolate, who have a good line in telling producer stories, in their case of the Kuapa Kokoo Faitrade cooperative, including some nice videos now on their website. I like the ambition of the Crop To Cup website, and the use of Google Earth and maps to make the producers even more “concrete”.

    Interesting points about presenting better decision making information to ethical consumers weighing up marks and brands. I think there’s a balance here. As you point out you don’t want to be comparing and calculating to the point where you have cognitive overload. I think when people shop, they expect some issues to have been dealt with. Government and retailers are asking a lot of shoppers, delegating them the responsibility of choosing society’s way out of unsustainability. We mustn’t lose sight of the need for legislation for minimum standards and having some simple marks like Fairtrade that we know we can trust.

    We agree that making connections between producers and consumers is the key thing. Generally these connections do have to be mediated to be productive, but the 2.0 era definitely offers opportunities for more personal and spontaneous interactions that go far beyond the generic corporate blurb on product packaging.

    A new strand of Trading Visions’ education work focuses on using video conferencing to scale up face-to-face contact between consumers in the UK and Fairtrade cocoa farmers and their communities in Ghana to drive Fairtrade education and action. I agree with the other comment that this kind of technology is going to be hard to deploy in Africa, but there are occasionally opportunities. We have satellite broadband in two rural schools in Ghana and are able to run video conferencing sessions with schools and conferences in the UK. Here’s a video news piece by ITV Wales about one of these sessions.

    Divine Chocolate also have a youth Fairtrade chocolate bar called Dubble that has an online community of “Dubble Agents” out to change the world “chunk by chunk”! We’ve just introduced more social networking elements to the online community recently – with profiles, avatars and forums – and much of it is about trying to mobilise young people by inspiring them with producer stories from Ghana, using exciting media whenever we can.

    Like the idea of producer podcasts!

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