Fair Trade Marks and Accreditation

Fair Trade Marks and Accreditation by Robin Murray

for New Garden Cities Alliance Roundtable,

March 9th 2015

The Fair Trade Mark was launched in 1992, funded primarily by charities.  For some years it found it difficult to take off. Initially Cafedirect was one of only two licensees, and license income was the core of the mark’s longer term business model.

The decisive change came when Harriet Lamb became the Director in 2001.  Her experience had been as a campaigner (she had been the campaigns director of the World Development Movement) and she developed the Fairtrade Foundation and its mark as a campaign. She supported the development of fair trade towns, of fair trade schools, of universities and faith groups. There are now 10,000 fair trade campaign groups in the UK.

Side by side with this she expanded the mark as a collective brand, with all the design, marketing and PR work this involved. The mark was in practice a second brand for each of the products that adopted and carried it as an addition to its own brand, and this presented a particular challenge. But with the help of the network of campaigners, the strategy succeeded. Now the mark has been carried by 4.500 products with sales of some £2 billion a year.

This is the first point to emphasise in relation to developing a mark for Garden Cities. By itself a Garden City mark could easily get lost amid the ever noisier world of marks and brands. The question is who does the mark want to reach and what would be the benefits for those adopting it.

A Garden City is of course not a packet of coffee to be bought in a supermarket.  On the other hand, a mark can provide a tangible peg from which to spin out a campaign. It can set out a set of standards for a garden city, to prevent the idea being diluted. The mark would be a sign of quality (the urban equivalent of an Oscar).  Depending on how it is framed, it can connect/bind together a range of initiatives that reflect the principles of a Garden City.  

In designing a Garden City mark the following issues arise:

  1. would it be a single mark, or one with stars (like the Michelin stars). If the latter initiatives could gradually add stars as they develop.  Under such a scheme how many stars out of 5 would Letchworth and Welwyn earn?
  1. would there be some basic features and others that could be added? The first might include the collective ownership of the freehold.  The second might be the integration of the urban and the rural as in the Letchworth vision. Or would it be a single package?
  1. would it be primarily directed at substantial developments, either new towns, or extensions to towns, or regenerated areas.?Or could we envisage a network of smaller projects that together would be adistributed garden city? Such a network could include city farms, zero energy developments, community land trusts in rural and urban areas, rural and urban designers, co-operative housing developments (such as Lancaster Co-operative Housing and other mini hydro schemes like theirs).  Many of these not only share a common ‘aesthetic’ but face similar problems in relation to financing, or local and national regulatory structures. Each of these would bear the name of their particular ‘distributed’ garden city as well as the collective garden city mark.
  1. what would be the advantages of those carrying the fair trade mark? Letchworth have put “garden City’ back into their name as the primary distinctive identity of a local place brand.  A wider network – most evident in the ‘distributed garden city’ case – could have many other advantages. It could provide a collective voice on policy, the sharing of experience, collective purchasing and the development of a common source of finance for example. These are the kind of network economies enjoyed by initiatives such as the 300 co-operative village shops, the 1000 co-operative schools, or indeed conventional trade associations.

This bears on the issue of funding. If the mark was conceived primarily as a publicity tool for the Garden City idea, then funds would need to be sought from foundations and/or those supporting the idea. The sums would be relatively modest. The challenge, as with any grant funded organisation,  would be to sustain them.

A second version would see the mark as one element in a consortia of garden cities (however defined). It would be an initiative with a wider base – of those active in many different ways in realising consciously or unconsciously the ideas of Ebenezer Howard. It would be more of a movement than a campaign. Its members would then be contributors to the costs of the mark. They could earn income for the mark by acting as destinations for ‘economic tourism’ – those interested in pioneering all or part of the Garden City idea.  And so on.  The goal would be to develop a more autonomous economic base.

Robin Murray

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