Fairtrade Finance?

Does it Really Taste Funny?

I have just finished reading one of last year’s Christmas presents, a bestselling book, at least in church circles, by a former journalist in pursuit of fatherhood with both a lower and upper case F. I did enjoy the book, probably for all the wrong reasons but I was a little surprised that he considered having to drink fair trade tea as one of the many challenges he was faced with on the journey to becoming reverend. Why a challenge? Well apparently “fair trade tea always tastes funny”.

From the author’s biography it would appear that the offending cuppa was consumed in February 2010, a mere eight years ago. Really? Has Fairtrade tea come such a long way since then? After all that purveyor of all fine comestibles, M&S, have had branded fair trade tea since 2006, and now Fairtrade, tea included, is as mainstream as sliced bread.

‘Weekly Shop’ v ‘Good Deed of the Day’

I think I first became aware of Fair Trade in the late 1970s. Back then shopping Fairtrade was still a quirky lifestyle choice, goods were limited, premium priced and vaguely substandard involving purchases that were less of the ‘weekly shop’ and more of the ‘good deed of the day’ variety. Only available in Oxfam, or a volunteer run table at the back of church which often resulted in swapping one moral dilemma for another – buying fair trade versus shopping on Sundays.

From my own memories of Cranmer Hall in 2002 the Divine Bars hung around the tea breaks for months until they were eventually sold off slightly out of date but to be honest this was in the days before dark chocolate with mango and coconut or milk chocolate with toffee and sea salt. And of course Cadbury’s the UK’s most popular brand went Fairtrade in 2009 (though they have moved the logo to the back of their bars since, for obvious reasons).

But was tasting funny really fair criticism even in 2010? Now you are more likely to be putting your supermarket own brand fair trade teabags into the Twinning’s box, rather than the other way round.

Quality and Equality

Credit Unions are often described as Fair Trade Finance. Now before you start firing off the irate emails, I know that Fair Trade has a recognised and accepted definition but bear with me on this. While they too may have started out as a minority interest lifestyle choice, also in many cases involving a table at the back of church, since the 1960s Credit Unions have been challenging oppressive economic systems and the vested interests of established institutions.

Take a look at the values and ideals that underpin Fair Trade and you will see a remarkable similarity between them and those of the Credit Union Movement.

Co-operative and Mutual – many Fair Trade producers are co-ops, likewise Credit Unions are owned and controlled by their members. Policies and products are designed with the needs of members in mind and all work together for the common good through the virtuous circulation of money.

Ending Exploitation – I’m not just talking about payday lenders or loan sharks, but all financial institutions that exploit users of their services either through unfair charges, hidden fees, higher than advertised interest rates or discriminate in any way. With Credit Unions what you see is what you get. Unlike other lenders who only have to give their headline rate to 51% of successful applicants, which can be a very small number indeed, the interest rate advertised is the rate loaned at. Credit Unions don’t penalise you for not owning your own home, or having a lower credit score.

Cui Bono? – This question, the one that guides detectives in their criminal investigations is key to understanding Credit Unions. Churches’ Mutual aims to be of benefit to the whole church family— money invested by our members means the credit union can make affordable loans to the people who need us. When those members borrow, the cost of their loan helps to build up the savings of all our members.

Change and Sustainability – Over the years Fair Trade has had a lasting impact on the way food and other goods are produced and marketed not only in the work they do with small individual growers but by acting as a social conscience across the whole food and farming sector. To do this Fair Trade has had to become a mark of quality as well as equality. Credit Unions also have a role to play in how financial institutions are held accountable for their actions and to demonstrate a different way of doing credit. They can only achieve this if having a Credit Union account becomes as common and unremarkable as buying fairly traded bananas.

For more information on Fair Trade Fortnight visit the Fair Trade Foundation Website and if you are not already with us, check out what Churches Mutual has to offer – it might just be your cup of tea.

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