The luxury of caring about Fairtrade condoms

22.02.2011 § 3 Comments

I just read here that Waitrose, the British supermarket chain, will start selling Fairtrade condoms in an attempt to reinforce its commitment to sustainability. For those of you not familiar with the concept, this is what it is about:

Fairtrade is an alternative approach to conventional trade and is based on a partnership between producers and consumers. Fairtrade offers producers a better deal and improved terms of trade. This allows them the opportunity to improve their lives and plan for their future. Fairtrade offers consumers a powerful way to reduce poverty through their every day shopping.

It is basically a deal between companies and suppliers from developing countries that ensures fair prices for the later, so that they can cover their costs, continue their activity and support the local economy. The main beneficiaries are countries in the southern hemisphere, like those in South America and Africa. It is a really big thing in Western European countries (my UK experience was full of it), where companies are literally fighting over who introduces the next Fairtrade product (a product which respects the trading standards set by the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation). It is also a serious, very well organised thing. The Fairtrade certificate is only awarded to a product if the standards have been met and there are several organisations promoting and safeguarding it throughout the world, like the Fairtrade Foundation and Fairtrade International. Products with a Fairtrade certificate range from fruits to coffee and cocoa, cotton, juices, tea, gold, sports balls and now, apparently, condoms. Starbucks, Cadbury, Nestlé, Marks and Spencer, Nescafé, Tesco, Debenhams and Boots are just some of the companies with one or more certifications.

I am so amazed sometimes by the differences in the public and corporate agendas between countries like Romania and the rest of the world. They worry about things like how the rubber for the condoms was produced in a developing country and we can’t even support our own agriculture. Imported oranges have become cheaper than locally produced potatoes and politicians are trying to pass a law which forces supermarkets to give 10% of their space to local products (?!). Romania is not at a point where it can afford to look into things like Fairtrade, but our current problems give rise to other opportunities that companies fail to see or take.  International supermarket chains operating in our country, like Carrefour,  tend to forget about their global commitment to sustainability and to promoting local producers. Despite all the governmental problems, I think the numerous hardships that local producers are confronted with represent great opportunities for a company (especially from the retail sector) to differentiate itself through demonstrated responsibility.

In the meantime, I’ll be dreaming of a time when my fellow Romanians will care about whether the rubber in their condoms was fairly traded or not.

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§ 3 Responses to The luxury of caring about Fairtrade condoms

  • Ioana says:

    On Facebook, Anna says:

    ‘Ioanca, I share your dream 🙂 I have trouble even translating the concept into Ukrainian and get a big laugh after a conceptual explanation. On the differences on global sustainability agenda and local realitites: this is outrageous here, as much as big players scream about resp. in the western world, equally they use their chance to rip max profit in markets like Romania, Ukr. etc. pathetically unfair trade, huh? :)’

    It’s such a shame though, Anycka, because the competition in some areas is pretty fierce, and companies could really differentiate themselves and win the market over by meeting some of the local needs in terms of sustainability. But I guess they’d just rather cash in as much as possible with the minimum effort, although I think that this will not work forever either. Consumers have to ‘open their eyes’ at some point.

  • Anya says:

    Ioanca, there was a very good article published in HBR about CSR vs CSV (creating shared value). My guess is that not only going short term max profit will not work because of the ignorance of consumers, I would take it even more seriously. Neglecting local production, irresposible exploitation of natural resources and similar irresponsible practices bring POVERTY and stagnation in the economy, therefore purchasing power is going down like crazy. In the end it is the companies that loose profit in the disadvantaged communities (especially when the Gov. is not helping as our case is). So yeah, fair trade and organic stuff will remain luxury for quite a while here..

  • Ioana says:

    More from Facebook:

    Marie: ‘This definitely falls into the category “whatever people calm their ‘social’ conscience with”…’

    Tatsiana: ‘As we read somewhere during that fairtrade project, people are more likely to pay more for what is good for them in the first place, and then for what is good for others. So, I see it this way. Fairtrade food or cotton t-shirts are very simple products and they are good for you per se (at least it is unlikely that something really bad can happen to you). So, it is easy to think “ok, I bought this to make myself feel good, now, let me also help those farmers”. As for condoms, do we think about 99,99% or 100% which is a question of our life, or do we think about farmers well-being? Do we see condoms in connection to a rural farm producing simple commodity or a high-tech enterprise with digital equipment to ensure the highest quality of the end product? If there is 100% guarantee that this product will be nice to use (addition iincentive to use it) and won’t let me down (so I don’t need to think what to do if the product fails), I could think about helping farmers. Untill then, I would better invest into technologies of more advanced condoms. And bananas are just bananas – I guess they require less involvement duing the decision making process so I have time to think about farmers.’

    Andres: ‘I would never trust a FairTrade condom….developing countries are not precisely “good” in birth control’

    Tatsiana: ‘I wouldnt either. Coz a fair trade part of this product is too small to dictate the prise. It is the process of the product making makes a difference. While in case of food or clothes, the fair trade part of the product is almost the whole product.’

    Tabea: ‘I am totally up for fairtrade babies’

    Tabea: ‘sorry, i will be serious now. I can speak for what I see here in Geneva, and I can’t say I have actually seen fairtrade products (which probably just means they are not advertised as much). But I think fair trade condom buyers go, they now have an extra “social conscience” to add: improving (ideally) the lives of those less fortunate AND reducing the population. But yes, I believe similar to Romania, many countries are just not at that “height” of social consideration..’

    Marie: ‘I think it´s luxury to be able to be concerned about the people producing the goods u wish (or have to) buy! Although it would be desirable for all people to see the bigger picture of our actions, this is only possible for people who have sufficient financial means. Germany is a very rich country but even there people, especially families with lower income, are struggling to pay bills – a mother of 4 living off 1200 euros has other problems than to think about whether the banana her baby eats or the condom she uses to prevent baby no 5 were traded fairly.
    It would be nice to see people buying german apples instead of the ones imported from south africa. it would help local farmers, would reduce co2 emissions etc – but again, you only think about your shopping list in such detail when u literally have no other problems.’

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