Dislike FairTrade? What’s your alternative?

Critiques of certification systems (for example, LEED, USDA’s organic, and ENERGY STAR) are old news.

TransFair certification logo

Image from Wikipedia

I won’t argue the critique of the label (see the Wikipedia critiques).  Sure, there ARE problems.  However, what struck me was how clearly the Food First writers just didn’t get it.

The “look for the label” movement bet that people were simply “consumers” who could not stop for longer than a few seconds to think and truly care about what they were supporting with their purchases. They were wrong.

While I wish they were wrong, I don’t think they are.  I am one of the people I know who is most interested in learning the background of the products I buy and most committed to supporting the people who produce the things I use and eat every day.  I do my research, but am unable to research every restaurant I eat at, and every chocolate bar brand, or every component in my electronics.

I rely on shortcuts, and have to balance what’s available with what I need with money with what I know. When I’m treating my niece, she gets to pick the chocolate off the shelf I point to – and I’ll hope my local Co-op kept the worst offenders off the shelf.  When I’m replacing my laptop, of the three models that meet my needs I’ll choose the one with EPEAT certification.

To you who critique a specific certification, I request an alternative.

There need to be ways consumers can use their economic power to support the kind of world they want to support — such as one where producers are treated fairly, or one that supports the local economy, or one that reduces environmental harms during production.  I don’t see any perfect options, and seek realistic suggestions.  They should

  1. be possible to implement,
  2. place reasonable expectations on the consumer (i.e. not require an hour of homework to buy a cup of coffee), and
  3. be trustworthy.

What are your recommendations?