From grower to consumer
Fairtrade taking root in Norway
When buying coffee or many other products, consumers around the developed world now often ask where the products came from, who made them, and whether workers were treated fairly in the process. These questions have led to the rise of terms like “fair trade” or “direct trade,” often accompanied by formal product-labeling certifications that help to answer those questions for consumers.
Fair trade at its core seeks to ensure sustainable and equitable trading relationships. This can mean paying farmers down the street a fair price for their eggs or buying “fair trade” labeled bananas grown by farmers in a distant country.
The concept began in niche religious and grassroots communities around the developed world in the mid-20th century. In Norway, the concept of fair trade has taken root in many ways and continues to grow in influence.
According to Annabelle Lefébure-Henriksen, CEO of Fairtrade Norway, it all started with coffee.
Norway, along with its Nordic neighbors, drinks significantly more coffee per capita than any other country in the world. Oslo-based Fairtrade Norway works within an international network of organizations that create a fair-trade supply chain from grower all the way to customer, primarily through coffee, bananas, chocolate, and cotton. Their familiar label helps to answer the questions consumers are increasingly asking.
The pandemic has caused disruptions in supply chains, and sales of fair-trade coffee have been affected by the closures of hotels and offices. Even so, Lefébure-Henriksen says she is optimistic for the future of fair trade in Norway.
The move to online shopping, accelerated by the pandemic, brings new possibilities for focusing Norwegian consumers on ideas like fair trade. Lefébure-Henriksen commented about shopping online: “You don’t have to be hungry or in a hurry to pick up [your children] at daycare. You can sit there with your coffee and surf a little and take time to compare products. And then you have time to read about what those labels or certifications mean. In a store, we see, there are so many messages to get across, specials, sales, reducing plastic or food waste or sugar. Here, one can click on sustainability, fair trade.” You can then read more about where the product comes from.
She hopes to improve her organization’s network of “Fairtrade kommuner,” or fair-trade municipalities, which Fairtrade Norway works with to focus some of their own spending on fair-trade sourcing. These municipalities range from tiny Volda, which works with its local folk college, to large cities like Oslo, which procures fair-trade cotton uniforms for its workers.
Thanks to the influence of several organizations, including Fairtrade Norway, the Norwegian parliament has passed Åpenhetsloven, or the Transparency Act, taking effect in July 2022. The law, patterned after similar laws in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, will require many businesses to perform due diligence and publicize information about the ethics of their sourcing.
Lefébure-Henriksen believes that organizations like hers can help businesses that will now need to look deeper into their supply chains to get the answers the new law will require.
“Cashews roasted and salted in Norway have the label ‘Made in Norway,’ but, of course, we don’t grow cashews in Norway, so we have to go back to the raw ingredients. It involves the whole supply chain, not just the first contact,” she said.
This article originally appeared in the Feb. 4, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American.