The other day, this toy section caught my eye while walking through Target. “Certified Non-Toxic”, the ludic toy brags. It is clear Target is experimenting here, but I wonder if this toy’s primary selling point speaks to the struggle fair trade products have in getting on shelves.
Granted, most parents want their children’s toys to be non-toxic, but is “Certified Non-Toxic” that big of a selling point? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. There are more toxic toys in the US than I know of, but that really isn’t saying much. I grew up playing with steel Tonka Trucks that could give you tetanus with one malicious twinge of the hinge.
Here is my point, let’s contrast the “Certified Non-Toxic” with “Certified Fair Trade”. Some parent sees this non-toxic toy and thinks, “That’s nice, but I’ll just get a cheaper stuffed animal. It isn’t certified non-toxic, but I don’t see a scull and crossbones either, so…it’s probably ok.”
Switch the non-toxic to fair trade. The same parent goes to buy the fair trade stuffed animal and thinks, “The bear is certified fair trade, what about all the other toys? Are they made for children by children? Does Target trade fair for this bear, but unfair for the other 99% of the store?”
I suggest, that the mere existence of a fair trade product calls into question all the other products. That’s why Macy’s fair trade experiments (Shop for a Better World) does not emphasizes that it is a fair trade project. They link it to a specific project and highlight how it helps a specific community overcome a specific problem. Because it is an especially project, it does not cast doubt on the fairness of Macy’s other products.
It makes me wonder if highly charged terms like “fair trade” could survive in big box retailers simply because the brain too easily goes from “fair” to “unfair”. As technology makes the world smaller, consumers will want more evidence that their money is bettering the world hence the rise in corporate social responsibility(CSR). More and more retailers will be experimenting with green-fair-organic-non-toxic products trying to find exactly what consumers are concerned about.