HK Time Out Magazine: Certified Fair Trade, Column #26

Between 2009 and 2013, I contributed a short, light-hearted fortnightly political column to Time Out Hong Kong.

BjfSFTT.jpg (621×100)

Certified Fair

Many Hong Kongers, particularly jet-setting expats, bear rather hefty carbon-footprints, so it’s naive to be too self-congratulatory when wielding reusable bags, recycling and buying organic. However, sometimes a worthwhile idea nurtured by a few can become mainstream in just a few years. This can be said for the Fair Trade movement in the UK, where recent visitors will notice that the accreditation symbol can be seen around every high street. Some entire towns, supermarkets and manufacturers are going 100% fair trade, and the founders want HK to develop a similar, meaningful culture of ethical buying.

HK’s first Fair Trade Fortnight was held last month, and although the organisers – Oxfam – admitted that it is still a tiny movement, it appears awareness is rising in the same way it did in Britain back in the 90s. As CafeDirect CEO Anne MacCaig explained at the opening conference in Wanchai, we’re currently seeing small grassroots efforts in churches, community groups and independent stores – and this is how it all began in the UK

Hong Kongers are a generous people; a recent HKU study found that 90% of citizens give to charity, donating almost $3000 each per year. With improved availability and promotion, this conscientiousness could easily spill over into buying habits. Oxfam found that 96% of us are willing to pay up to $10 more on such products. In order to prevent the momentum settling into a boutique shopping niche, we’d need to see an eventual tipping point whereby retailers begin responding and stocking more fairly traded items as the norm. (It shouldn’t be too difficult, as our city hosts an unfortunate duopoly of just two big supermarkets!)

Local free market thinking would deem fair trade to be a kind of subsidy or marketing ploy that impedes growth. However, any visitor to will see that Fair Trade codes can really help challenge injustice, inequality and promote sustainability for a better, fairer world.