Tuesday 10 September 2013

Big Fair Bake

Yesterday I submitted an entry in the Big Fair Bake: a baking competition that aims to promote Fair Trade.  All entries must use at least two Fair Trade ingredients.  Here's my entry photo and my answer to the competition question "why did you bake fair".

When I heard about the Big Fair Bake, it inspired me to research some new fair trade ingredients.  I first started buying only fair trade cocoa and chocolate a few years ago when I learned that much of the world's cocoa is grown by child slaves.  I didn't want anything to do with that!  Later we switched over to buying all our coffee and bananas fair trade, too, as we didn't want poor people being abused so we could get our treats.

For the Big Fair Bake I decided to try out a new recipe: Earl Grey tea biscuits.  The recipe uses icing sugar, butter, flour, salt, lemon zest and powdered Earl Grey tea leaves. I'd never bought Fair Trade tea or sugar before, but here was my opportunity to research it!  I learned that there is forced labour and child labour in the sugar industry, just like for cocoa.  No one seems to sell Fair Trade icing sugar, so we bought some ordinary sugar from Trade Aid, ground it to a powder in a spice grinder and added some cornflour.  Voila!  Fair Trade icing sugar.  Unfortunately the supermarket was out of stock of Scarborough Fair Earl Grey tea so I used Trade Aid black tea instead.  The lemon zest still gave them an Earl Grey flavour. 
Researching fair trade sugar was interesting.  I went into this knowing very little about the sugar industry, but I decided that the time had come to find out whether people were being treated poorly to grow our sugar.

I learned that there is some forced labour and child labour in the sugar industry, but that in general the problem that Fair Trade is trying to solve is the precarious living sugarcane farmers make due to price fluctuations and the protectionist policies in and sugar dumping by some wealthy countries.  I decided that forced labour and child labour bothered me, but that the other problems would be better addressed by interventions other than price floors for certain farmers.  So it turned out that I did need to care about the provenance of our sugar!

I knew that, some years ago at least, Chelsea purchased all their sugar from Fiji.  As that wasn't on the list of countries where people were being enslaved to produce sugar, I decided to find out if that was still the case.  From their website, I found that they now actually purchase all their sugar from Queensland.  So, I now needed to know whether the sugar farmers of Queensland were beneficiaries of subsidies or other anti-competitive practises.  Turns out that they aren't.  So, while I bought TradeAid sugar for my competition entry, in the future we won't be doing so.

This process has still changed our sugar purchasing practises, though.  I'm no longer comfortable with buying 'home brand' or other sugars of unknown provenance: that sugar may have been farmed by slaves or children.  From now on, our sugar will all be from Chelsea (just as, for similar reasons, we buy all our tea from Dilmah).


  1. Interesting post, is there a wiki that collects the results of research like this? It would e really handy to save others from having to do the graft for every product we buy...

  2. Not that I know of :-( It'd be awesome if there was - let me know if you find one one day!