At the end of February, Fairtrade Fortnight supporters aim to show their support for farmers and producers around the world. The people that grow our food, make our clothes, produce our furniture and mine for essential minerals are often underpaid and exploited. Make sure you choose Fairtrade when you can and where you can.
21 February – 6 March 2022
by Emma Johnson
The festival encourages us to show our support and push for sustainable change. It aims to support and empower producers by improving working conditions for employees and negotiating better prices. In part, we can contribute to this by carefully considering what we buy and where we buy it from. But we also must encourage others to be aware of the need for this change.
What is Fairtrade?
The Fairtrade scheme consists of networks and co-operatives which bring the products to market at better prices and have ensured good treatment of producers. FLOCERT is the independent certifier that inspects the producers and traders to ensure compliance with the standards.
The scheme is designed so that farmers receive a minimum price that will then reduce the risks of poverty when markets are unstable. It also includes a premium in the price. This is an additional fund that the producers can reinvest into their communities. They will often use it to create better infrastructure including developing roads and schools.
Does Fairtrade Really Benefit Farmers?
Western consumers often raise question of ‘what is the point?’ They will often believe at least they are getting something for their produce and that’s better than nothing. This is far from the reality.
Research shows that the scheme brings a lot of benefits to farmers and communities. However, as with all good ideas, it is true that not all farmers in potential poverty will benefit. Fairtrade-certified buyers must purchase the farmers’ products before they will see the benefit. If the farmer doesn’t have a buyer they will still need to sell their produce to generate that income. Of course, they then won’t necessarily receive a fair price.
Fairtrade and Supermarkets
Unfortunately, us consumers tend to think about buying only the most obvious and well-publicised types of Fairtrade products. Think bananas, coffee and tea. While supermarkets in the UK are generally more aware of Fairtrade there is still a long way to go.
The rising cost of living in the UK is part of the problem, and we are finding that we have to choose the cheapest on the shelf. Sadly, while we are trying to protect ourselves from poverty, exploited workers in these a range of industries can suffer even greater poverty.
Unfortunately supermarkets buyers may focus specifically on purchasing the promoted Fairtrade products like coffee and chocolate. When farmers see the opportunity to grow the popular crops or produce the products in demand the markets can become flooded. This will clearly drive down the price.
Along with this, the focus on only one product in a region can create environmental problems. This is ever more important with changing climates which can see an increase in crop failure. With no other produce to fall back on, communities will be affected detrimentally.
The organisation as a whole is looking into improving standards to encourage sustainable agricultural practices. Organic may be a better route but higher costs are involved to producers and consumers. Even under the Fairtrade system, they may not have the funds to invest for certification or the methods. Indeed, for many shoppers they do not have the option but to choose cheaper non-organic.
The True Costs of Fairtrade
The other side of Fairtrade is that it costs to run the organisation. The system has to be licensed and audited to make sure it works but this comes at a cost. It is really easy for us to question its validity and what people get in return. At this time there is no other way of ensuring small farmers and producers rights are protected.
It is not perfect, the leaders know this and trying to make the changes. Fairtrade premiums are paid under the certification system to specifically benefit the unskilled workers that larger plantations employ. However, smaller family-run farms may not be able to afford to join the scheme and as a results their rights are not necessarily as protected.
Journalists have reported Fairtrade farmers employing children. This goes against the standards, and is mostly successful in preventing this practice. Without the current checks there would probably be a higher rate of child labour.
Of course, this is also about governments around the world taking action for change. Families living in poorer communities generally send their children to work because of the level of poverty they are living in and not out of choice.
It May Not Be Perfect
Finally, Fairtrade may not be perfect, few systems are. Despite this, their goals are for us to pay a better price and to improve the conditions for producers. There is little evidence that wealthy nations, buyers and shoppers pay the right price without this scheme. Every single one of us must aim to make buying fairer to all if we are to see change.
Let’s not forget that at the current time, fewer than 1% of the smaller farmers throughout the world are members.
We need to commit to supporting these producers more than ever. It is easier than you think:
- Commit to at least 1 Fairtrade item in your weekly shop
- Choose committed refill shops and markets
- Check the labels and put back non Fairtrade products
- Ask the store owners and write to the supermarket managers to get them involved
- Get involved with the fortnight
- Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t always afford to buy like this.
Visit Fairtrade to find out how you get involved:
- Social media
- Read the stories about the farmers