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It’s a trendy message celebs love to drive home, but could one Belfast mum buy Fairtrade for two weeks?

Writer Ali Fell, a mother of three young children, decided to put Fairtrade Fortnight to the test. So, how did she get on shopping for ethical options in food and clothes?

I have been drinking Fairtrade coffee for more years than I can remember and I always look for the Fairtrade sticker on my bananas, but I have often wondered if my ethical shopping really makes a difference, or if it is nothing more than a token to appease a conscience made guilty by relative wealth.

So, this Fairtrade Fortnight I decided to see how easy, or hard, it would be to live a truly fair lifestyle. For a fortnight, my family chose fairly traded products whenever possible.

Monday morning, kids at school, it’s time for the big shop. First stop: fruit and veg.

I have a small banana-lover in the trolley today ‘helping’, so we head for those first, and honestly I have to look hard to find a banana that isn’t fairly traded. Good start. I also spot oranges, grapes and, for an exotic treat, a couple of mangoes. That should keep our lunchboxes stocked for a while.

Things become a little trickier when I reach the vegetable aisle. After a bit of searching, I decide to opt for locally-grown produce, in an attempt to support our local producers.

It’s not a Fairtrade choice, but it is, I hope, an ethical one. We move on, trolley loaded with Comber potatoes.

The rest of our shop is a bit of a mixed affair.

My tiny trolley-helper and I are overwhelmed with choice in the tea and coffee aisle, have our pick of sugar varieties, and are delighted to find jam, marmalade and honey, and peppercorns, but we have little success in the dairy department, or when it comes to household cleaning products. (My research afterwards reveals that, as Fairtrade concentrates on the developing world, there are as yet no Fairtrade certified options available in these categories anyway.)

I decide that rather than simply buying official Fairtrade merchandise, I will purchase the most ethically sound options I can.

So I spend the next hour scouring the shelves for green, organic or locally-produced alternatives, in the absence of a Fairtrade sticker. Exhausted, I finish in the frozen food department and, joy of joys, I spot a Fairtrade mark. God bless Ben & Jerry’s.

Never was a tub of Chunky Monkey more timely.

My trolley shop total is just slightly more expensive than my usual shop, which is a pleasant surprise.

I suspect this is because I was unable to find suitable alternatives to some of my regular items, as some of the Fairtrade and organic options I chose today were definitely a little more pricey than their ‘unfair’ alternatives.

But I feel my pounds have been put to good use, and with a clear conscience I head home to find a spoon. Chunky Monkey, here I come...

My son’s school shirt sleeves are creeping up his arms at an alarming rate. How have I not noticed this until now? Time for a uniform shop.

How am I going to manage this during Fairtrade Fortnight?

I shouldn’t have been so worried. Tesco has a small selection of Fairtrade cotton uniform pieces, that look great and are also very reasonably priced. Sadly, they are completely out of his size. So, I head to Marks & Spencer, and we have a result. Lots of uniform options. Obviously I take a wee dander round the rest of the store (all in the name of research, obviously) and come home with a couple of new vests for me, and a lovely little toddler dress — cute and Fairtrade.

Enthused by my M&S success, I decide to do a little online browsing. I am delighted to find a truly brilliant range of Fairtrade items by Top Shop (in a special collection launched just in time for Fairtrade Fortnight, handily enough) and am particularly impressed by People Tree, which is nowhere near as hippy-chic as I remembered.

I feel an ethically sound spending spree coming on, come payday...

Spring is the season for birthdays in our family. The next month has no less than seven celebrations — eek!

There is one this weekend, so I make a beeline for Oxfam’s Fairtrade Shop, on Rosemary Street, Belfast.

I fear my choices will be limited to a few hippy doo-dahs that all smell faintly of patchouli, but am very pleasantly surprised to find a bright, cheerful store, with a wide range of goods from across the globe.

I am very taken by a new range of tin animals from Haiti, although they weren’t quite right for this particular event. On this occasion my requirements are more suitably fulfilled in the jewellery section.

The range is very reasonably priced and not dissimilar to what’s on offer in some of my favourite high street stores, and I am very tempted to choose a little something for myself. Instead, I show remarkable restraint and turn my attention to the food section, where I happily spot a few items that I couldn’t get in my trolley shop — rice, peanut butter and some really delicious olive oil.

I’ve no idea how that bar of Divine Dark Chocolate with raspberry pieces got into my basket, but it would be a shame to waste it...

My children have noticed my peculiar shopping habits, and want to know what it’s all about.

So we spend a bit of time on Oxfam Ireland’s website (oxfamireland.org) learning about the difference our shopping habits makes to farmers on the other side of the world. Then we all agreed that, as the littlest sister eats so many bananas a month, it’s lucky all our ‘nanas’ are already Fairtrade.The concept of global poverty is difficult to grasp when you are only seven. Issues around trade and the fair treatment of farmers are even harder. But I firmly believe that you are never too young to develop a sense of social responsibility and I am certain we will keep the discussion going. For starters, everyone is keen to ‘help me spot the Fairtrade stickers’ at the supermarket next time, which should be fun...

I have to make a dash into town at lunchtime to sort out a few things for work, and while I’m there I nip into Boots for a few essentials. I take the chance to spot a few Fairtrade friendly pieces — cotton wool and cotton buds for starters.

Not the most glamorous of items, but we use lots of these and how brilliant that they are a Fairtrade item too. And after having found such worthy additions to my Fairtrade repertoire, I also treat myself to a wee selection of mini Extracts Fairtrade products — body scrub, body butter and lip balm. Well, they were 3 for 2, and I think I’ve earned it!

Our Fairtrade Fortnight adventure is drawing to a close — so how have we managed? Well, to be honest, it’s not possible to run a family home entirely with products stamped with a Fairtrade logo.

But what I have gained over the past two weeks is a renewed desire to make my pounds count — to think carefully about what, and who, I am investing my money in and to choose as ethically as possible every time I open my wallet, be that in terms of fairly traded goods, locally-produced items, or environmentally sound options.

Times are tight, and especially with a young family, we have to think carefully about what we spend.

Ethical choices aren’t always the cheapest alternative, but choosing what I know deep down to be the right option... well, that’s worth its weight in gold.

The Oxfam story

  • Oxfam Ireland operates four Fairtrade shops in Rosemary Street, Belfast, Dublin, Galway and Cork
  • Oxfam pioneered Fairtrade retailing in Ireland since 1986 and internationally has been active in this field for 40 years
  • Oxfam Ireland Fairtrade shops stock a wide variety of Fair Trade foods, including tea, coffee, chocolate, biscuits, and honey and also sell a large range of handicrafts and personal accessories such as jewellery, scarves and bags, children’s gifts, home décor and home textiles.
  • Fairtrade products in Oxfam shops come from producer groups in over 30 of the poorest countries around the world, from Bolivia to Bangladesh, Ghana to Guatemala, Indonesia to India.
  • Many Fairtrade foods are increasingly available in supermarkets and convenience stores. Oxfam actively encourages our supporters to lobby their supermarkets, local shops and cafes to stock and promote Fair Trade products.

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