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Viewing Fair Trade through a Critical Lens

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Viewing Fair Trade through a Critical Lens

21 February, 2021

Fairtrade Fortnight is celebrated every year, with the objective of increasing awareness of fair trade products. Fairtrade works to provide farmers with a higher income so they can meet everyday living costs and cope with the challenge and change of things like climate change and global warming. Fairtrade Fortnight - which takes place between 22 Febuary and 7 March - allows schools and families across the UK and Ireland to come together and learn more about the key people who grow our food and drink.

De-colonising the curriculum, however, requires viewing the curriculum through a critical lens. It means viewing teaching and learning from multiple perspectives and exploring things like:

  • Where has the knowledge come from?
  • Whose knowledge is it?
  • Are there alternative knowledge forms?


As educators, it is important for us to make sure that multiple perspectives and experiences are brought into our classrooms. Using global learning and teaching about issues such as Fairtrade is a fantastic way to do this. Schools, teachers and students have become increasingly familiar with Fairtrade, exploring its merits for bringing about a more just global trading system. And, overall, schools have become deeply aware of how Fairtrade can address the injustices of conventional trade, which too often leaves the weakest producers earning less than it costs to grow their crops.

It could be said that Fairtrade is a bit like a national minimum wage for global trade, but is this necessarily akin to a substantial living wage? And can it be really held up as a magic wand or panacea for addressing the inherent systems that perpetuate poverty and inequality? 

Fairtrade is an issue that can generate much debate. It has its merits, but can also generate criticism. A few points of critisism include:


  • Better prices for smallholder farmers and workers in developing countries
  • Persistent advocacy for workers' rights and working conditions


  • Fairtrade isn't accessible to all farmers. For them to become involved in the Fairtrade movement they need to pay an initial fee and organise themselves into small-scale farmer groups with a democratic structure and transparent administration. Poorer or remote farmers don't have the capacity to do this
  • Rigid rules for particular products rule out supply by the poorest farmers

We have a responsibility as educators to make sure students are engaged in ‘Critical Fairtrade education’ where they have the opportunity to address ‘the relationship between trade and aid and make connections between Fairtrade and major development themes such as climate justice, human rights, sustainable development and gender equality’ (extract taken from Teaching about Fairtrade by Susan Gallwey). It's important that students explore both the pros and the cons, rather than simply being given the message that Fairtrade is the consumer’s solution to ending poverty.

What's the alternative?

In addition to buying Fairtrade branded products, students should be aware of alternatives approaches such as:

  • Buying ethically sourced products using direct trade systems - buying goods direct from suppliers paying close to retail prices
  • Sourcing speciality brands produced by individual farmers
  • Purchasing other logo banded products e.g. Rainforest Alliance products or Palm Oil Free logo products

But in all these labelling schemes, there's one crucial question we need to reflect on: Are poor producers expected to pay the costs involved to join?

Resources for Exploring Critical Fairtrade Education

Key Stage 2

Key Stage 3

Research, Compare and Contrast: Invite students to consider the following:

  • Compare and contrast the benefits for the consumer when buying Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance and Palm Oil Free logo products
  • How do each of the above labelling systems benefit farmers/producers?
  • We've highlighted some of the disadvantages of Fairtrade for poorer farmers. Can you identify the same for Rainforest Alliance and or Palm Oil Free logo products?
  • Can you identify any other logo branded foundations/companies/cooperatives?
  • Carry out an internet search to identify ethically sourced products through Direct Trade Systems. What are the benefits for both producers and consumers?
  • How do consumers here benefit from purchasing labelling scheme products?

Join the Launch of FairTrade Fortnight - and other events!

If you'd like to get involved and join the virtual launch of Fairtrade Fortnight at 4.30pm on Monday 22 February, click here to register. There's lots to celebrate and a great line-up of events, thanks to Fairtrade Ireland. Here's a taster of just some of the events you can share with your students:

Lastly, we've sourced some other learning resources we think will deepen yours and your pupils global learning journey. 

Primary School Resources

Secondary School Resources

Enjoy two weeks of education through a critical lens - and have fun engaging in discussions and activities!

Resources to Support Classroom Practice and a Whole School Approach

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