Fair Trade and Islam
By Maryam Issadeen
The concept of fair trade has achieved prominence over recent years however a brief look at its core principles shows that fair trade ethics are consistent with the Islamic teachings formed during the time of the Prophet Muhammad (saw).
Fair trade is a social movement advocating better working conditions for traders in developing countries as well as promoting sustainability. Notable fair trade products include commodities such as cocoa, cotton, chocolate, honey and handicrafts.
Fair trade as a concept seeks to bring about equity in international trade through promoting a wholesome and respectful relationship between traders (usually from developing countries) and buyers (usually from developed countries) founded on transparency and effective communication. This relationship sees to the trader being paid no less than a fixed minimum price (established by a fair trade certifying body) for their produce which will ensure all of their costs are met, allowing for a sustainable and secure production future. Buyers also have the option of paying a premium price which provides extra funds to buyers to be put back into local social and environmental developments.
Some of the concepts contributing to fair trade certification include ensuring production environments are safe for workers, following legal and correct working conditions (no child or slave labour) and protection and sustainability of the environment.
Based on these standards and definitions, it can be seen that the concept of fair trade espouses many of the Islamic teachings about trade dealings.
During the advent of Islam, the city of Makkah was a trade hub. The Prophet Muhammad (saw) was a well-known and respected trader given the name of “Al Amin”, the trustworthy, due to his honest and dependable nature. From his time as a trader and from the situation of the economy around him, many lessons were given and recorded with regards to the manner of trading in Islam.
First and foremost is an insistence on honesty and integrity. There are many ahadith supporting this principle such as the following narration by Tirmidhi: “The truthful and trusty merchant is associated with the prophets, the upright, and the martyrs.” The Qur’an is even more specific on the matter of honest trading wherein Allah (swt) says “Give a full measure when you measure out and weigh with a fair balance.” (17:35)
Fair trade aims to provide the poor with secure trading means to ensure they are not exploited by their buyers. Islam, like fair trade, is supportive of social justice for all. The Qur’an clearly states on several occasions the importance of striving for justice such as “O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both.” (4:135)
To help ensure there is consent in trade between producers and buyers, fair trade advocates transparent relationships during business transactions extending as far as to the consumer. This open relationship ensures that there is no exploitation of the less experienced when it comes to trade matters. Islam similarly follows this principle, stating that business is only correct when there is consent from both parties which helps eliminate the mistreatment of producers from poor and desperate situations. The Qur’an says “O you who have believed, do not consume one another’s wealth unjustly but only [in lawful] business by mutual consent.” (4:29)
Besides consensual transactions, the general well-treatment of workers is emphasized upon in both fair trade and Islam. From providing safe working conditions to prompt payment, fair trade insists on many of the existing rules regarding the treatment of workers in Islam. For example, the Qur’an states “Give just measure and weight, nor withhold from the people the things that are their due” (7:85), clearly prohibiting any unjust dealings regarding quantities and payment.
These few examples of the relationship between fair trade and Islam serve to show a direct correlation in intrinsic principles. From the few examples given, it is clear that fair trade espouses the teachings of trade in Islam and at the same time certifies produce to ensure certainty for consumers. While supporting fair trade produce is not necessarily obligatory, Muslims have a duty to ensure that the products they consume have been sourced justly and from the examples above it can be seen that buying fair trade is a safe way to do so.