With this past week having been the first of Fair Trade Fortnight in several countries, I wondered if yours is involved and if you’ve picked up anything interesting about the movement to Make Trade Fair.
International trade laws are undeniably weighted against poor countries, keeping billions in the Third World trapped in poverty. The mission is to make trade work for the producer, by campaigning for changes that will empower farmers, rather than continually exploit them: in short, making sure that workers in developing countries get a better deal for their toil.
In the UK, the Fair Trade market is doubling in value every two years. Last year, its estimated retail value was up by approximately 43% – to £700 million – and around 20% of the coffee and bananas sold in the UK are now reportedly Fair Trade.
Is the price of Fair Trade products too high to compete further? Do you believe that the extra being paid for them is actually reaching the people it should?
Take coffee, for example; after oil, the world’s second most valuable commodity.
Some 70% of the world’s coffee producers are small-scale growers, most of whom struggle to eke out a living. Hardly surprising when you consider that the farmer will have earned about three cents for what you pay three dollars for at Starbucks.
Next, bananas, the world’s most popular fruit, with annual global sales of £10 billion. So, how come the majority of plantation workers earn less than £1 a day?
About 70% of all cocoa, to give another example, comes from West Africa. Although the major exporters aim to double the incomes of their suppliers there by 2013, many remain unimpressed. They could do much more.
Do you see the certified Fair Trade brands at the newsagents or in the canteen vending machine, or just endless rows of Cadbury’s, Hershey’s, Mars and Nestlé products? (See how the latter value the rights of their cocoa farmers here.)
Nestlé, which already controls a good portion of the world’s coffee industry, launched its own Fair Trade instant coffee in 2005. That’s the same Nestlé, of course, which has been subject to an international boycott for more than three decades because of its “aggressive” marketing of powdered baby milk.
How do you feel about such ‘green-washing’, as it’s been called: giving an often controversial multi-national corporation a more eco-friendly image, be it due to genuine concern for the cause or just another opportunity to increase sales?
Do you really care where your peppers or oranges come from? Is supporting local farmers, wherever possible, more important than supporting those in the developing world? Are you happy to pay a little more for some items to help alleviate someone else’s poverty? Do you already boycott anyone or anything?
Lots of questions for a Sunday night, but I’d love to hear your views.
If you feel that all this leaves the taste of a Nestlé Milkybar in your mouth, consider requesting that your local supermarket – unless you boycott it on ethical grounds, of course – starts stocking more Fair Trade products. Take a moment to tell the new EU Trade Commissioner that Europe’s unfair trade deals are a disgrace (you don’t have to be European). Or exercise your power as a consumer and refuse to buy anything unethical. A little snoop around cyberspace will show you who the villains are and what crimes they’re guilty of. You might be surprised at just how many there are and how much money you unwittingly hand them each week.