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4 ways Fairtrade supports Sustainable Living
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4 ways Fairtrade supports Sustainable Living

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Established in 1992, the Fairtrade Foundation describe themselves as a movement for change that works directly with businesses, consumers and campaigners to make trade deliver for farmers and workers. By setting standards, lobbying governments, and certifying products and ingredients, they drive awareness around supply chain transparency and empower marginalised peoples by providing socio-economic justice.

And as empowered advocates for all things ethical, we wanted to underpin just how Fairtrade leads by example.

1) Gender Equality

Currently, a total of 350,000 women farmers and workers are part of Fairtrade which equates to a quarter of the total. Fairtrade believes that the visibility and value of social sustainability, especially for women, is of high importance but that many lower down the supply chains aren’t registered as formal workers. A paper titled ‘Equal Harvest’ by the Fairtrade foundation cites new research showing that there are often obstacles in attaining membership and/or leadership in localised co- operatives where there is a bias toward appointing men. Additionally, domestic work and unpaid care that these women carry limits their free time to become involved however Fairtrade Premium aims to support this by improving access to water, basic healthcare, childcare and more. (1)

Image credit: Chris Terry/Fairtrade Foundation

Marginalisation is a highly complex issue but there are Fairtrade initiatives underway as we speak. Transforming gender relations in Uganda has meant that over 83% of the Bukonzo Joint Co- operative Union (encompassing a large number of coffee-growing households in and around the Ruwenzori mountains) members are women due to a policy of joint membership for married couples. They keep logs to support the progress of even allocation of work for regular monitoring by their community groups. The success of this arrangement is now being shared with co- operatives in Tanzania after receiving funding from the International Fund for Agricultural Development and Oxfam. (2)

2) Standard of Living

One of Fairtrade’s main objectives is to reduce risk and vulnerability for farmers and workers, for which it offers the Fairtrade Minimum Price that ensures access to credit, improved cash flow and ability to save. In addition, co-operatives can also acquire financial security from longer-term contracts with exporters within the Fairtrade market which can mean better trading terms and prices. With these benefits, farmers and workers can more easily plan for their futures, pay for their children's education and increase food security which is very closely linked to economic growth for the whole. Providing food for themselves while being able to invest in growing new crops means families can be able to thrive all year round, even in times of instability. (3)

Instances include:

  • Fairtrade research in Malawi uncovered that groundnut farmers in the Mchinji Area Small Farmers Association (MASFA) feel their standard of living has improved in the years since becoming Fairtrade certified due to heightened income from groundnut sales and the advantages of Premium projects. (4)

  • A study examining the impact of Fairtrade, which included cocoa in Ghana, cotton in India and coffee and bananas in Peru, revealed that in all of the regions researched, small-scale farmers benefiting from Fairtrade initiatives enjoy a higher (between 10 and 15 percent) and more stable income than producers in the respective comparison groups. (3)

  • At Satemwa Tea Estate in Malawi, the Fairtrade Premium has been used to subsidise the cost of the foodstuff for workers to purchase at a lower price during the lean months where shortages occur during December, January and February. This has significantly improved food security. (4)

Image: Groundnut harvesting in Malawi

Slave labour is also a huge problem facing mostly impoverished areas of the world. The Fairtrade Foundation complies with and adheres to the Modern Slavery act while enforcing it’s own standards to protect workers including Hired Labour, Contract Production and Small Producer Organisation (SPO). These cover the main forms of modern slavery under their “labour conditions” terms, including the following key headings: Freedom from Discrimination, Child Labour and Child Protection, Conditions of Employment Occupational Health & Safety. There have been a number of success stories where various co-operatives are self-governing in correspondence with these ethical practices in places like Paraguay, Dominican Republic, and Colombia which is promising progress in helping to abolish such injustice. (5)

3) Access to Essential Services

The Fairtrade Premium enables workers to invest in basic services for their local communities that will have the most impact. Stipulating their own plan of action, co-operatives and other community leaders including head teachers and councillors work together to invest this money in new infrastructure, equipping schools and refurbishing local housing. Community health projects are also atop the popular priorities where building a new dispensary or clinic consequently boosts the the regional job market while providing necessary access to basic healthcare. (6,7)

The village of Mangoso used its fair trade premium to repair the well in Wempea village, providing clean drinking water for the 200 inhabitants.

Education plays a substantial role in the distribution of the Premium, especially in rural regions collaborating with local institutions. In a study, at least 24% of the Premium was utilised for educational purposes which directly supports the education of workers and their respective families in the wider community. Through this, sugar cane farmers in Orange Walk (Belize) were able to invest in a community computer library to improve literacy and learning in a way of contributing to their community’s welfare. (8)

4) Environmental protection and conservation

Environmental protection is at the heart of Fairtrade’s strategy for positive change. On numerous levels, including smallholder farmer and larger hired labour production set-ups, everyone involved in a supply chain is strongly encouraged collaborate in these key areas cohesively:

  • Energy and greenhouse gas emission reduction
  • Soil and water quality
  • Pest management
  • Biodiversity protection
  • Prohibition of genetically modified organisms and harmful chemicals• Waste management

Reducing the amount of pesticides and agrochemicals that are harmful not just on human health but on the environment is paramount. Under this particular objective of the Standards, Fairtrade ensure personal protective equipment is always used, that farms are free from hazardous waste and are using water sustainably, and encourage activities to enhance biodiversity. Farmers in particular are also trained in the implementation of eco-friendly practices and are encouraged to become organic growers. This can be more expensive in the short-term but ensure healthy soils and a higher price for their yield. Some coffee and tea co-operatives have even themselves chosen to invest in reforestation projects such as tree-planting to help improve the micro-climate, protect soils and provide a habitat for indigenous wildlife.

While strange weather reeks havoc on our planet as the global temperature warms, Fairtrade realises that small-scale farmers are some of the worst affected. The Standards offer support with schemes such as the Producer Support Programme for Climate Change and Carbon Reduction Plans while providing emergency cash injections for these farmers in unforeseen circumstances.

ADAPTea, a joint programme between Fairtrade Africa, Fairtrade International and Vi Agroforestry, is helping with these issues specifically and with great results. Members of ADAPTea: the Sireet OEP co-operative, have used their Premium to co-fund climate change initiatives such as establishing tree nurseries and providing training in reducing deforestation, organic composting and diversification. Over 150,000 trees have already been planted. (9)