The religion and society think-tank Ekklesia, which actively backs Fair Trade initiatives as part of its work in exploring alternative economic and social policies, says that the just trade movement has taken "a giant step forward over the past decade."
Commenting on Fairtrade Fortnight, Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow said: "Only a few years ago Fair Trade goods were mostly sold by churches and voluntary groups. Now they have got into the mass market. This has some problems, as the fundamental critique of a grossly unequal global economic system, implied by the very concept of fair and unfair practices, may be diluted. But it is an important wedge for justice, and materially benefits some producers who would otherwise be in a much worse situation."
Barrow added: "Of course the Adam Smith Institute and other wealthy advocates of untrammeled 'free trade' have been quick to use Fairtrade Fortnight as an opportunity to spread their cynicism, claiming that fair trade can damage developing world farmers by distorting market conditions."
He continued: "They say that 90 per cent of producers are excluded from this growing sector. But the answer is to change the system, not blame those seeking to do so. Freedom without fairness is a fallacy."
Ekklesia points out that the fair trade movement has grown into a major political and economic force as a result of the pioneering work of Christians alongside others, working "from the ground up" and bringing companies and politicians on board through persuasion and pressure.
Barrow said: "It shows that individuals and small groups can make a real difference. But it is important to remember that fair trade goods are just part of the equation: we also need fair finance, fair tax, fair jobs, fair aid, fair investment, a break on the unsustainable debt system and fair capital. Markets should serve people, not the other way round."
See also 'Fairness, trade and free markets' - http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/6849