This citizenship assembly explains the concept of Fairtrade, setting it in the context of what we mean by “fairness” in our dealings with other people.

Some products with The Fairtrade Organisation label.

If possible, project an enlarged Fairtrade label. For example at

The next two weeks are Fairtrade Fortnight, when we think specially about being fair to people around the world who grow some of the things we buy in the shops and supermarkets, like cotton, tea, coffee, bananas, cocoa and other products. What they want is to be treated fairly by the big companies who buy their products in large quantities, and by you and I who buy them in the shops. What does that mean – to be treated fairly that is?

Well, let’s have a think about what we mean by being fair. What is it to behave fairly to someone? Any ideas?

[Take some suggestions]

They’re all good suggestions, and I would put them all together and say this – a fair person is someone who behaves to other people just as he or she would like people to behave towards them.

The saying that’s often used is ‘Do as you would be done by’. That means the same thing – treat other people the same as you want them to treat you.

So if I’m stuck with no pen, and I borrow one from you, then I should give it back when I’ve finished, because that’s what I’d like you to do if you borrowed a pen from me.

Like if it’s my turn to do the washing up at home, then I take my turn and do a good job; because I would like the other people in the family to do that too.

We all have a good sense of what’s fair and what isn’t, and we all have once said, ‘That’s not fair’ when something’s happened. Sometimes we say ‘not fair’ about quite small things, and we forget about them quite quickly. But for many people, unfairness affects their lives in important ways. So today we’re going to learn about the farmers and growers of crops across the world who suffer if they’re treated unfairly.

Once up on a time, there was a man called Thomas who grew coffee in a country in South America. He was a poor man, and he had to work hard to earn a living. The biggest problem he had was that because he only had a very small plantation, and found it difficult to sell his crop. The big buyers all did deals with bigger growers, and because Thomas had to hunt around for buyers he couldn’t get much money for his coffee beans. When he did manage to sell it, his coffee ended up in shops in Europe and America, but before it got there it was bought and sold several times by traders and the factories that ground it up and put it into jars or packets. In fact if one of his packs of coffee sold for two pounds in a supermarket in the United Kingdom, by the time all the people in between had had their share of the money Thomas was left with twelve pence.

But then, the Fairtrade Organisation came along. They told Thomas that if he got together with other growers to form a group, they would buy his coffee for a fair price and then it would sell in the shops also for a fair price without going through so many other traders on the way. But the coffee would have to be high quality, and they would put a special ‘Fairtrade’ mark on it.

Thomas wondered if people in Britain would buy the Fairtrade coffee. ‘It will be more expensive,’ he said. ‘Most shoppers go for the cheapest product. That is one reason why we are so poor.’

The Fairtrade people reassured Thomas.

‘More and more people in Britain and in Europe and America are willing to pay a little more to help you,” they said. “They look for the Fairtrade label and they know that they are helping their brothers and sisters here in South America. We find, too, that some shops are buying only Fairtrade products. It’s not much more expensive, anyway, because we trade well and efficiently as well as fairly. But you must do your part, Thomas. The coffee must be the very best. People will only support you if your product is good. Fairness works both ways.’

So Thomas produced the best coffee he could, and in the shops it stood on the shelves with the Fairtrade label displayed. And, sure enough, more and more people bought Fairtrade coffee and soon Thomas’s life was much better, and their group of suppliers was making enough money to be able to help the local school, and to pay for a medical centre.

‘I would like to thank all people in Britain who look for the Fairtrade label,’ said Thomas. ‘Because you are helping people like me all over the world – coffee growers, cocoa growers, banana growers – thousands of hard working men and women who only ask to be treated fairly. In return we will send you good products at a fair price.’

All any of us want is to be treated fairly – we should therefore make the effort to treat others fairly in return. When we buy something in a shop, we hope that the price will be fair. We also want the person who made it or grew it on a farm to be given a fair share of the money we pay for it. Everyone who works, including our parents and relatives and friends, wants to feel that they’re being paid the right amount. That’s why so many people are willing to buy Fairtrade products, because they know all about being fairly paid, and they want to treat other people as they would like to be treated themselves.

A prayer
Lord, help us to treat other people as we would like to be treated ourselves. Give us patience and compassion in all our doings, and help us to remember that all people are equally deserving of fairness and justice.

A thought
If we cheat someone by paying them less than they deserve, then we cheat ourselves by damaging our dignity and honour.

Further information
Fair trade sticks to four main principles, which are well worth researching and discussing as part of enterprise for citizenship education.

  • Market access – which means giving small growers, who might otherwise be pushed aside by big organisations, the opportunity to sell their products.
  • Fair and sustainable trading – fair prices, and a steady relationship between grower and buyers.
  • Capacity building – enabling growers to develop their knowledge and understanding of the trade they are engaged in.
  • Customer awareness – helping the people who shop to be aware of fair trade and support it by asking for, and buying, Fairtrade products.

The website has lots of information and downloadable resources about Fairtrade Fortnight.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in February 2009

About the author: Gerald Haigh