You’re probably familiar with the fairtrade logo, and might even seek it out during your weekly shop. Fairtrade Fortnight stretches across this week and last week, giving us the perfect opportunity to discuss this great movement, and choosing fairtrade products means for producer’s livelihoods in the developing world.
What is Fairtrade?
In its simplest form, Fairtrade is a social movement with the mission of improving livelihoods and trade deals for farmers and producers in developing countries, while promoting sustainable farming practices. It is more specifically concerned with the trade of commodities that are exported by developing countries to developed countries, such as bananas, cocoa, sugar, coffee beans, and more.
The world trade practices that currently exist do not favour exporters in developing countries. This is an issue at the core of the Fairtrade movement, as it seeks to promote greater equity across international trade through dialogue, partnerships, and transparency. They do this through ensuring higher wages, decent working conditions, and a fair deal for producers, and reward such companies with their famous Fairtrade logo.
In order to do this, Fairtrade must concern itself with the workers and companies all the way down the supply chain. The movement also works closely with key players in the sustainable development sphere, by lobbying governments and working with partners to solve specific regional problems such as tackling climate change-related plant diseases with Bolivian farmers.
What Fairtrade Does
Fairtrade as an organisation works in a number of ways to promote their principles, and support the producers, companies, and supply chains that adhere to their standards. For example, companies must pay producers at least the Fairtrade Minimum Price for their products.
This price is determined on a consultative basis, and will vary depending on producer region and type of commodity. It also will change to reflect changing costs of production, such as fertiliser, transport, and wages (it jumped from $8.50 per box of Colombian bananas in 2010 to $9.80 in 2014). It is not uncommon for this value to be higher than market price, with even higher premiums offered for organic produce. This price guarantee protects producers from fluctuating market prices, securing their livelihoods and allowing them to plan for their and their family’s future, rather than worrying about making ends meet.
In a round-table discussion with a Colombian banana farmer cooperative, Tim Aldred, Head of Policy and Research at the Fairtrade Foundation, reported that the Fairtrade Minimum Price has enabled farmer’s children to complete their schooling, social projects have been undertaken, and overall productivity has increased.
In addition to Fairtrade Minimum Price, the movement also requires a surplus payment to go into a communal fund for workers and producers, to be used as they see fit to improve their social, economic, and environmental conditions. This Fairtrade Premium could go towards improving healthcare, educational facilities, or building infrastructure in their community.
The Fairtrade movement is continually running campaigns lobbying UK government to raise awareness of the needs of producers in developing countries, persuading the public that supporting fairtrade is a worthwhile endeavour, and pressuring policymakers to change the fundamentally unfair trade system.
Fairtrade Fortnight is one such campaign. Running from February 26th to March 11th, Fairtrade Fortnight aims to raise awareness about the need for Fairtrade trade standards, and the benefits of buying Fairtrade. Through a combination of self-created and user-generated content, the Fairtrade movement is leveraging social media channels to share their important message in videos such as this one.
With the uncertainty of Brexit looming on our collective conscience, another Fairtrade campaign is using this political shambles to secure a better trade deal for the world’s most vulnerable producers, many of whom rely on trading with the UK for their livelihood. They have identified a couple of key risks to be mitigated. A hike of £1 billion to the current import tax bill is expected if the UK were to leave the EU single market without the appropriate policy in place to protect millions of farmers. Additionally, they warn we must be weary of rushing into free trade agreements with wealthier nations such as China and the USA, without ensuring these deals won’t undercut producers in very poor countries.
On the Whole…
Fairtrade isn’t without its drawbacks, but when it works well, it can really benefit the livelihoods and communities of rural, struggling producers in developing countries, and help rebuild communities that rely on agricultural income for survival. So next time you reach for some bananas or sugar, why not try Fairtrade, knowing you are helping someone somewhere towards a better life.