What are the controversies surrounding fair trade


A documentary by the TV station ARTE causes discussion and irritation among the world shops and fair trade organizations

On August 6, the TV channel ARTE broadcast a documentary by the French filmmaker Donatien Lemaitre, which caused a stir in the run-up to the broadcast. TransFair published background information in advance, in which it pointed out the problematic passages in the documentation. Following the broadcast, there was a live chat with Managing Director Dieter Overath and a statement.

Since the GEPA was also mentioned in the article, customer information from Managing Director Thomas Speck came afterwards. The Weltladen umbrella organization has published advance information from the Catholic News Service (KNA), which has also dealt with the film.

In the article “Fair trade on the test bench”, the idea of ​​fair trade is explained historically. Individual projects are presented. The main criticism of the author is the increasing presence of the Fairtrade label in the supermarket and the partnerships with multinational corporations. A lack of communication and migrant workers who do not benefit from Fairtrade are also pointed out. In an ARTE interview, Donatien Lemaitre says: “My film shows that Fairtrade has already achieved great things. Just the transparency that one can trace the chain from the product to the producer is a great achievement of Fairtrade. Even if everything is not perfect in the chain, thanks to this label we have initial information about how our tea, our bananas and our coffee are produced at the other end of the world. We don't know anything about the production method of the other products. So in my opinion Fairtrade is preferable in any case. My film is intended to inform and sensitize consumers, with the aim of ensuring that Fairtrade continues to develop and improve - even under public pressure. "

At the same time he criticizes fair trade in his film and doubts its benefits. “The problem with this is that the retail giants reap particularly large profit margins on fairly traded products. The consumer pays a higher price. But most of the money that is supposed to support those in need stays with the dealer. And that is legal because Fairtrade does not prescribe a code of conduct for traders. ”(Quote from interview).


That shows how complex fair trade is. A good or bad, right or wrong does not go far enough. The rights of migrant workers and temporary workers cannot be protected with the current fair trade instruments. Fair trade is therefore to be seen as a process that has to be constantly evolving. For some companies it may be a pure marketing strategy to include FairTrade products in their assortment or to have some of their products certified, but it has been shown that fair trade is an alternative economic model that applies despite all criticism. This is shown not least by the recently published impact study by TransFair. In addition, there are many people with conviction who are committed to the constant development of fair trade. The film can stimulate discussion and be more useful to fair trade than it is harmful.

Gundis Jansen-Garz



World & trade has published the respective background information and statements in a bundle. If you haven't seen the film, you can do so here:


TransFair statement after the program was broadcast:

“Putting fair trade to the“ test stand ”also means reporting in a balanced manner and taking positive aspects into account. Although the advantages for small farmers through Fairtrade are mentioned at the beginning, we regret that the documentation pays so little attention to the diverse positive developments and instead aims at a clear negative polarization in its entire cinematic and content-related design. This is all the more regrettable as the journalist himself stated in his interview with Barbara Bouillon on the Arte website that Fairtrade had implemented “great things” and, among other things, emphasized the transparency of the supply chain as an achievement of fair trade.

Fairtrade and workers on plantations
Since 2001, Fairtrade has also included workers on plantations in the product areas of tea, herbal tea, fruits, flowers, fresh vegetables and wine. If a plantation meets the requirements of the current Fairtrade plantation standard, it must be granted Fairtrade certification in accordance with the world's leading accreditation standard ISO 65, according to which both FLO and FLO-Cert are accredited. The exclusion of a plantation because of the nationality of its owners would be a violation of ISO 65 and the prohibition of discrimination. In the case of plantations, Fairtrade focuses on the workers, not the owners. The current Fairtrade standard for workers on plantations therefore does not affect the owner's private property. The standards stipulate, among other things, that minimum wages must not be fallen below and that premiums must be paid to an account that is only accessible to the workers' representatives. The bonus only benefits the employees. The joint body / premium committee, not the plantation operator, decides on the use of premiums in the interests of the employees. FLO-Cert regularly checks compliance with the standards. "

The entire statement as well as the live chat at:



GEPA customer information:

"Dear customers,

In the ARTE documentary “Fair Trade Put to the Test”, filmmaker Donatien Lemaître takes a critical look at fair trade. Core statement: fair trade started politically and has now degenerated into a marketing and profit mock-up - at the expense of the people in the south.

Classic fair trade: GEPA and CIRSA

There is only one specific reference to GEPA in the film: the portrait of the Mexican coffee cooperative CIRSA at the beginning of the report. The film highlights the positive effects of fair trade:

· The price regulations in fair trade give small farmers more planning security

· Smallholders have a 20 percent higher income and receive additional bonuses

· Smallholders can give their children more educational opportunities

· Community projects (e.g. new kitchens) are financed through development allowances


On the other hand, the film author believes that fair trade cannot eradicate poverty. We think: Compared to our high European standards, that's true, but compared to their starting point, the farmers have achieved a lot in 20 years of Fair Trade. Because the living situation of small farmers in Chiapas without fair trade is significantly worse. In times of low world market prices, fair trade often becomes a question of survival. We would have welcomed it if this difference had been made even clearer. From our point of view, the educational perspectives are also evidence of the sustainable success of fair trade: A "simple" coffee farmer like Andrés Ruiz Gomez, who is portrayed in the film, can send three of his five children to university, which is not a matter of course, considering that in rich Germany According to an OECD study, only a minority of children from working-class families attend university. The film also shows that children also help out on their parents' farm after school.

This is allowed according to the international fair trade standards; what fair trade turns against is exploitative child labor. By the way, it is also common practice in Europe to help out on the parents' farm. For more information on the definition of child labor, see our statement at www.gepa.de


Abuses in the banana and tea production: There is another way We do not know the abuses shown in the film in a cooperative and plantations for bananas and tea production, because we do not deal with these partners. The impression in the film is, however, harrowing. The allegations are directed against Fairtrade International and Rainforest Alliance; therefore we cannot comment on this in detail. We only work with plantations for tea. Here we have had a completely different experience with the Samabeong tea garden of our partner Tea Promoters India (TPI) in Darjeeling. The living conditions of the tea workers have fundamentally improved, the employee representatives have a say in what the additional prices are used for and the educational opportunities at the secondary school are remarkable. TPI also employs a woman to manage the tea garden. She is the only woman in this position in Darjeeling.

It's about more than just control

Using the example of banana and tea production, the film questions the control system in fair trade. We too rely on the control system of Fairtrade International - even if most GEPA products no longer bear the seal. However, for us and our partners, mutual trust, which has grown through long-term personal contacts, is at least as important. In order to ensure the greatest possible security for all trading partners, we work with five other monitoring and certification systems, including: with the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO).

Further information can be found under the following link: www.fairtrade.de/index.php/mID/3.3.3/lan/de

Is that enough? We believe: the more profit-oriented large corporations enter fair trade, the more important it is to control the business conduct of buyers and denounce practices that contradict the philosophy of fair trade.

Supermarkets? Yes, but with ifs and buts

A representative of the French fair trade organization "Artisans du Monde" speaks out in the film against fair trade products in supermarket chains. From our point of view, food markets have become indispensable as an additional sales channel for our trading partners and customers. So the question for us is how, not whether we deal with supermarkets. We do not allow ourselves to be bent, we do not shy away from criticizing grievances in business, politics and international trade rules and practices. Because we want to guarantee the highest level of fairness for our partners in the south and quality for our customers in the north. We cannot influence margins because antitrust law in Germany forbids prescribing retail prices. We are not aware of retail margins of up to 45 percent for coffee (as indicated in the film) in Germany. We therefore consider such an assessment to be exaggerated.

Opportunities, limits and risks of fair trade

One of the key questions in the film is: "Can you get that big without losing your values?" This question is very legitimate. Who changes whom? Are we changing trade, or does trade ultimately change us? We, too, as actors in fair trade, discuss this question again and again in a controversial manner. Larger sales are certainly in the interests of those who are disadvantaged by trade. Corporations can offer an opportunity here. We would like, however, that not only the producers in the south, but also dealers here would have to meet stricter requirements in order to make their companies fairer overall. For us, it is not enough for companies to include individual products in their range at fair prices. Not only the media and consumer organizations are becoming increasingly critical, consumers are also increasingly able to differentiate between individual measures and a coherent, fair overall strategy of a company. Our own surveys have confirmed that. The GEPA stands for another form of trade (s). Our shareholders - without exception church development and non-governmental organizations - have set fair trade as a corporate goal in the partnership agreement.

These are:

· Promotion of disadvantaged producer groups

· Raising consumer awareness through political work (together with

World shops)

· Participation in structural changes in retail

In terms of what we expect from ourselves, our trading partners in the south and our sales customers and end customers in the north, we have raised the bar even higher in recent years:

· We pay z. B. Prices that are partially above Fairtrade standards

· We are increasing the proportion of fair trade in our mixed products

· We value the highest level of transparency, because that is proof of our credibility. We also issue sample calculations for individual products.

These are just some of the points that we have summarized in our “Fair Plus” strategy. More on this at fair-plus.de

“Who will prevail: fairness or trade?” We have a clear answer to the question posed by the film. May others put the emphasis differently, we haven't given up on changing the world. We owe that to ourselves, our shareholders, our trading partners and our customers. So much remains to be done. Let's tackle it together!
Thomas Speck, Managing Director GEPA - The Fair Trade Company