Fair Trade Toys

“It’s not fair” is a refrain every parent will recognise. Whether it is a game lost, presents of a different size, or play stopped by a heavy downpour, a perceived injustice will lead a child to shout of unfairness. As parents, we try our best to instill a sense of fair play in our offspring even while, perhaps, thinking to ourselves we need to prepare them for a life that is not always fair.

Developmental psychologists studying early child behaviour suggest that children as young as 15 months have some understanding of a behaviour being unfair, and by three years of age may take action to correct an unequal division of rewards. Such action, however, is far more likely to be taken by a child who perceives they are the one being disadvantaged. It is only in the later years of primary school that fairness as a fundamental moral value becomes established, based on a broader experience of the world and, one would hope, positive input from parents and teachers.

At the same time, there are other societal pressures acting in the opposite direction. There is, for example, the ‘win at all costs’ mentality still prevalent in some sport and the, not necessarily malign, intention to do whatever it takes to keep one step ahead of the competition. The rush to the Boxing Day Sales meanwhile is only an extreme manifestation of a desire most of us exhibit to grab a bargain, with perhaps little thought given to broader costs of knock-down prices.

Fair Trade began as a grassroots movement that sought to challenge the notion that ever-cheaper prices benefit everyone, and to take us back to the morality of fairness. Its main focus has been on improving terms of trade for producers in developing countries, allied to promoting sustainable development and environmental standards, but the principles that lie behind Fair Trade are just as relevant in the developed world. It has, in many instances, sought to address the needs of the most marginalised communities, to stamp out child and forced labour, and to promote schooling as a means to long-term improvement.

The movement has taken particular hold in the UK, where trust in the Fairtrade mark is high, and large numbers of towns, churches, universities and schools have declared their commitment to the principles. It has also moved beyond the initial emphasis on securing a better deal for farmers, to take on the clothing and fashion business, furniture and children’s toys and, of course, our high street coffee. Fair Trade is not without its critics, some of it directed at the major supermarkets and international conglomerates whom, it is argued, pay a fraction of the higher prices achieved by fair trade products to the producers. Others argue the poorest communities, and within them the poorest farmers, are rarely part of schemes, whose costs of certification are in any case out of their reach. What this illustrates is that Fair Trade may not be perfect, and is but one way to promote greater fairness in the world. At the end of the day, however, is it not better to buy something we know to have been produced by someone paid fairly?

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