“I PREFER to support people who make an effort to work and produce something rather than just sending money somewhere without knowing where my contribution is going,” said Michaela Riháčková, a customer who regularly purchases goods that are certified as Fairtrade products. While the concept is still not widely known in Slovakia, consumers who have discovered this particular way of supporting producers and people in developing countries say they feel they have more control over where their money is going and how it is being used when they purchase a Fairtrade-certified product.
But a perception in Slovakia that Fairtrade-certified products carry a higher price tag remains a challenge to boosting sales here, as does the country’s rather small market.
“When compared to other countries of the European Union, Slovak customers are still at the starting line and Fairtrade-certified products are only starting to be known here,” Ľubomír
Drahovský, an analyst with the TERNO market research agency, told The Slovak Spectator.
Though various non-governmental organisations are trying to raise awareness about fair trade concepts, Drahovský said Slovak consumers often lack information about certified products and that the variety of available products is quite small and not well-advertised.
“Fairtrade is an alternative approach to conventional trade and is based on a partnership between producers and consumers,” states the website of Fairtrade International (FLO), a non-profit, multi-stakeholder body that sets standards for fair trade. FLO notes that the global scheme offers producers a better deal than the standard marketplace and that its Fairtrade label has been certified for thousands of products coming from 50 countries around the world.
The first Fairtrade label was given to coffee produced in Mexico in 1988 that was sold in
Dutch supermarkets. Since then the concept of certified fair trade products has been spreading worldwide and it has gradually become known in Slovakia as well. Nevertheless, those who follow the development of the initiative in this country note that it will take more time before the concept resonates with a wider group of consumers here.
Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International is the legally-registered name for Fairtrade International, which was founded in Bonn in 1997 to unite various labelling initiatives under one umbrella and harmonise worldwide standards and certification processes. The organisation has been working on achieving fair prices for producers who primarily work in developing countries.
Fairtrade International establishes a so-called Fairtrade Minimum Price (FMP) and a Fairtrade Premium (FP) with the supplemental amount used for investment in the producers’ businesses, according to Allan Bussard, the chairman of Slovakia’s Integra Foundation, which supports the development of fair trade.
Bussard told The Slovak Spectator that consumers pay a combination of the minimum price plus the premium even if the market price is lower and that the additional amount goes to an investment fund that is also used for community benefit projects.
“In the case of coffee, through the sale of a conventional espresso which costs €2, the [coffee bean] producer gets about half of one cent,” Bussard said. “Within the Fairtrade system, the producer receives about 15 cents.”
In Slovakia, products such as coffee, tea, beer, sweets, honey and chocolate are being sold with a Fairtrade certification, Zuzana Golierová from Živica, a Slovak ecological organisation that operates a store offering Fairtrade products, told The Slovak Spectator. She added that in other countries it is quite common for customers to find Fairtrade-labelled clothing in stores but that the situation is slightly different in Slovakia because tough competition in the textile market makes it difficult for these products to compete with cheaper clothing sold in hypermarkets.
Bussard said that most Slovaks connect Fairtrade-certified products with groceries and added that the Ten Senses store operated by Integra offers customers high-quality Samay coffee from Ethiopia and nuts from Kenya.
The Slovak market is small
Stores that want to sell Fairtrade-certified products must face certain challenges in the Slovak market, according to Golierová, who said the market is too small and often there are not direct suppliers to Slovakia, making the supply chain longer and the final price for Slovak consumers higher. Fairtrade-certified coffee is directly imported into Slovakia but that is the exception rather than the rule.
“Previously we were selling fair trade coffee that was imported from the UK, Italy and Austria but we decided in 2009 that it made more sense to develop our own directly-imported coffee,” Bussard said. “Ethiopia was the logical place to go since the Integra Foundation was already doing development projects in Ethiopia and we had good contacts there.”
The price, which may be perceived as too high by many consumers, is one of the challenges in selling Fairtrade-certified products in the Slovak market but Bussard points out that this perception is mistaken.
“There is a perception in Slovakia that Fairtrade-certified products are more expensive than conventional products of similar quality,” said Bussard. “This is a myth, but the perception remains.”
Riháčková, who has been buying Fairtrade-certified products for some time, is quite satisfied with the quality of her purchases and even if the price seems a bit higher she considers the help she provides to producers as a good enough reason to keep buying Fairtrade-certified products.
“It is a wonderful idea because this initiative helps people stay productive and proud of their work,” Riháčková told The Slovak Spectator.
The author is a student at the University of Economics in Bratislava
12. Dec 2011 at 0:00 | Ján Beracka