Fair Trade Is Beautiful[i]

Why The Sustainable Development Goals Need Fair Trade

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals with icons and text for each goalThe United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a series of 17 ambitious targets aiming to wipe out poverty, protect the environment and ensure prosperity for all by 2030, were agreed on 25 September 2015.[ii]  Although much good work has already been done, it doesn’t even scrape the surface.  So why are we struggling to meet them?

The current global economic system, capitalism, gives precedence to the free market, which favours big business, and as a result is unfair, encourages instability rather than sustainability and is environmentally destructive.[iii]  In fact, by law large multinational corporations (MNCs) are obliged to work for the best interests of the shareholders, the ‘best interests’ being capital returns.[iv]  An approach based on profit before planet and people will never allow us to realise these goals.

In order to reach the SDGs, we need a new economic system based on respect, equality and sustainability.  This is where Fair Trade comes in.  The structure and standards of Fair Trade lend themselves perfectly to achieving what might seem impossible tasks, because it focuses on small-scale farming and organisations therefore putting people and planet before profits.[v]  There are two verification schemes within the Fair Trade movement: the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) whose suppliers practise the WFTO’s 10 Principles of Fair Trade and the Fairtrade Mark owned and licenced by Fairtrade International.  The Fairtrade Minimum Price (FMP) and Fairtrade Premium are included in the latter system.  The FMP ensures the producers receive a minimum payment that meets the basic costs of production[vi] and the Premium is an additional sum paid to the Fairtrade farming co-operative to spend on local community projects. [vii] For our brief video explanation of the two schemes, see the Scottish Fair Trade Forum animation Our Fair Trade Nation.

The core values of the Fair Trade movement are detailed in The International Fair Trade Charter, and are summarised in the Charter as follows:


Fair Trade summary diagram from International Fair Trade Charter

Therefore, the Fair Trade movement was already dedicated to the UN’s vision decades before the SDGs were agreed.  For real-life stories that show how Fair Trade makes a difference to farmers and workers across the globe, and how these contribute to achieving the Goals, see the Scottish Fair Trade Forum’s Fair Trade and the Sustainable Development Goals in 2022.

It is very clear that we need to return to doing everything on a smaller scale, as Fair Trade demonstrates, so that the power is no longer in the hands of a few; that planet and people come before profits; and that respect not exploitation is at the heart of the global economy.  Only then can we trade fairly in a system where all participants in the chain, from producers to consumers, have a role to play and something to contribute.  Only then can we begin to live within the means of the planet.  Only then will the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals be achieved.

By Sarah Aldred, Schools Volunteer, Scottish Fair Trade Forum

07 October 2022


[i] This is a reference to E.F. Schumacher’s book ‘Small Is Beautiful: A Study Of Economics As If People Mattered’, first published by Blond & Briggs in 1973.   Schumacher argues for a return to thinking and living small-scale and putting people before profits.

[ii] https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdinaction/newsletter/september2015

[iii] The International Fair Trade Charter: https://wfto.com/fair-trade/charter-fair-trade-principles

[iv] https://www.investopedia.com/terms/f/fiduciary.asp

[v] The International Fair Trade Charter: https://wfto.com/fair-trade/charter-fair-trade-principles

[vi] https://www.flocert.net/glossary/fairtrade-minimum-price/ and https://www.fairtrade.net/standard/minimum-price-info

[vii] https://www.fairtrade.net/about/how-fairtrade-works