What is Fairtrade?

Fairtrade guarantees a better deal to producers in the developing world: this means a stable price which covers their production costs, along with a premium that their organisation will be able to reinvest either in the business or social and environmental schemes within the wider community.

The Fairtrade Mark

Too many farmers in the developing world have to contend with fluctuating prices that may not even cover what it costs to produce their crop, so Fairtrade can make a big impact on their day-to-day life, and on their future and that of their family.

In recent years, fairtrade organisations around the world have agreed international standards for fairtrade for certain major commodities, such as coffee, tea, cocoa and bananas. The Fairtrade mark, administered by the Fairtrade Foundation, is the UK’s only independent guarantee that products meet these standards. 78% of people in the UK now recognise the Fairtrade Mark (Fairtrade Foundation Annual Review 2014/2015)

The UK’s first Fairtrade products (bearing the Fairtrade Mark) were launched in 1994: Green & Black’s Maya Gold chocolate, Cafedirect coffee and Clipper tea. There are now over 4,500 Fairtrade products from over 58 developing countries available to British shoppers – everything from bananas to basketballs, benefiting around 7 million farmers and workers and their families worldwide. The Fairtrade Foundation estimates that the retail value of Fairtrade in the UK in 2014 was £1.68bn, with £25 million generated in Fairtrade premium for workers and farmers from UK sales.

Why buy Fairtrade bananas?

Conrad James, Fairtrade banana producer

Fairtrade bananas are sold in all major UK supermarkets, including Asda, Booths, Budgens, Co-op, M&S, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Somerfield, Tesco and Waitrose, so they are one of the easiest Fairtrade products to find.

There are hundreds of banana varieties grown around the world, most of them in India and other countries where they are cultivated for local, domestic consumption. But the US and Europe export market is largely dominated by just one variety and a handful of giant companies. Roughly 60% of banana exports are controlled by just three multinationals – Chiquita, Dole Food and Del Monte – which produce primarily in Central and South America, the world of the so-called “dollar banana.”

The big banana producers have long been dogged by allegations about their low ethical standards. First, there’s the question of wages: in the dollar-banana plantations, the workers who actually grow the bananas receive only 1-3% of the final price, or, put another way, as little as a dollar a day, in return for twelve or more hours of hard labour (according to figures from the Fairtrade Foundation). Child labour has been shown to be widespread, as has the intimidation, firing or even murder of would-be union organizers.

Health and safety is also an issue on big banana plantations due to the use of agrochemicals. Required in vast quantities due to the single-crop nature of the plantations, fungicides and other pesticides are often sprayed from planes, and though there are rules to ensure that workers are not put in danger, these have not always been observed. As well as directly breathing in the chemicals, the workers, many of whom live on or next to the plantations, have often ended up drinking and bathing in contaminated water, with sometimes catastrophic results. In the last few decades thousands of workers have died, been made seriously ill or given birth to deformed babies.

The chemical DBCP, used to kill parasites which attack the roots of banana plants, was used by banana companies for many years despite awareness of its dangers. The long-term effect on the workers injecting DBCP into the ground have included headaches, sterility, kidney problems and loss of sight. Claiming compensation from the banana giants Dole, Chiquita and Del Monte has been a long and often fruitless process for affected workers in Central America and West Africa, with many dying young waiting for justice (see ‘Fighting the Banana Wars’ by Harriet Lamb, 2008). For more on the banana trade, visit www.bananalink.org.uk.

The Fairtrade Foundation produced a December 2011 report, ‘Impact of Fairtrade Bananas‘, outlining the results of an independent study by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), which was commissioned by the Fairtrade Foundation. The study found that fairtrade has made a positive impact on both small producers and plantation workers in producing countries. The impact varies from country to country and the fairtrade banana is not a cure-all for the gripping poverty facing small farmers and plantation workers, but it has made a difference.

Why buy Fairtrade chocolate?

Cocoa farming is a precarious business. The trees are vulnerable to various diseases and the world price for cocoa often dips below the level at which it pays enough for small-scale producers to survive. Cocoa farmers are some of the poorest people in the world and on average earn less than 50p per day. They depend on selling their beans to pay for the essential things in life including wellington boots to protect their feet from the scorpions that live among the cocoa trees.

Divine chocolate bar

Fairtrade chocolate manufacturers such as DivineDubble and Green & Black’s ensure that producers earn a fair wage for their cocoa. Divine are co-owned by Ghanan smallholder cocoa farmers, and their cocoa has developed a global reputation for its quality and taste. In Ghana cocoa is mostly grown on small family-owned farms, rather than on large plantations, as cocoa grows best in the humid, shady conditions provided by the rainforest canopy. Choosing Divine helps farmers plan for their future, send their children to school, learn new skills, and improve their farms. See Ghanian farmers in action harvesting cocoa pods in this You Tube video filmed for Wales Tonight: http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=XwHJFvvlC5U and see a Divine Ghanian farmer explaining why his cocoa is “papapaa!” here: http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=zL6aZi0KAkA

Divine's Ghanan cocoa beans

Green & Black’s use organic cocoa beans from hundreds of farmers in Belize, the Dominican Republic and Madagascar. In 1994 the company launched Maya Gold, the first UK product to be awarded the Fairtrade Mark by the Fairtrade Foundation. The intense dark chocolate with a twist of orange, cinammon, nutmeg and vanilla was inspired by a local drink the founders of Green & Black’s, Jo Fairley and Craig Sams, drank whilst on a holiday to Belize. Made with cocoa beans and spices, Kukuh was drunk by the Mayan farmers whose ancestors had originally domesticated the cocoa bean. Jo and Craig discovered a large chocolate corporation had offered the farmers lucrative prices to plant hybrid cocoa trees instead of the indigenous variety, only to subsequently slash prices as world cocoa prices plummeted, leaving the community in economic ruin. Green & Black’s now trade direct with the farmers, paying them a premium for their organic cocoa and an additional Fairtrade price.

Dairy Milk bars

In 2009 Fairtrade chocolate went big: since July 2009 Cadbury have been making their Dairy Milk bars using Fairtrade cocoa beans. This move will triple volumes of Fairtrade cocoa sales from Ghana in the first year alone – which will benefit existing Fairtrade certified cocoa growers who have only been selling a small percentage of their cocoa on Fairtrade terms. Cadbury Dairy Milk is the UK’s top selling chocolate bar, and Fairtrade Cadbury Dairy Milk means that Fairtrade products are now available in over thirty thousand stores!

Why buy Fairtrade coffee?

The coffee industry is worth over $80 billion, making coffee the most valuable trading commodity in the world after oil. Yet coffee farmers themselves have never been a weathy bunch. For reasons ranging from their lack of capital to Western trade rules that slap huge import tariffs on processed goods, it’s long been the case that the farmers receive as little as 2% of the profits from a jar of coffee. As farm-gate prices have plummeted, millions have been pushed from poverty into extreme poverty. This has been especially catastrophic in countries such as Ethiopia and Burundi, where coffee is central to the wider economy. As wages have dropped, many farmers have had to take their children out of school, miss out on medical treatment, or take on unpayable debt just to keep things ticking over.

Fairtrade coffee photos

Fairtrade coffee is better because it is sourced directly from the farmer according to ethical trading principles.These include a minimum price guarantee (US$ 1.31/lb; US$ 1.51/lb for organic, or higher), which states that no matter what happens on the commodity markets, the Fairtrade coffee price will never go lower than a certain level.

The big four roasters and packagers of coffee are Nestle, Kraft, Sara Lee Corp and Procter & Gamble. In the last few years, there have been some positive developments, with three of the big four launching at least one coffee made from Fairtrade beans – Nestle in the UK and Kraft and P&G in the US. Cafédirect have been central in bringing Fairtrade coffee into the mainstream since being founded by Oxfam, Traidcraft, Equal Exchange and Twin Trading in 2001. Sales of the various brands of Fairtrade roast and ground coffees now account for around 20% of the UK market.

There is a wonderful short video called ‘Just Coffee’ that compares some of the benefits of the different certifications including Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ou5wby3X9jU.

It’s also worth watching the crticially acclaimed documentary “Black Gold”, which explores the relationship between Ethiopian Coffee Farmers and the final consumers, with an in-depth look at the role that Starbucks plays in the international coffee market. Black Gold is available
to watch online at www.blackgoldmovie.com.


Why buy Fairtrade condoms?

It’s now possible to buy Fairtrade condoms! Oxford-based company French Letter offer stylish condoms made from latex sourced through The Fair Corporation, currently the only company in the world paying a Fairtrade premium for latex rubber. A wide variety of condom styles are available, including ‘Stimulating Massage’, ‘Sheer Caress’, ‘Linger Lust’ and ‘Aphrodisiac’ scented condoms.

French Letter Fairtrade condoms

Fairtrade condoms are needed because rubber production is currently far from fair. In rubber plantations in countries such as Cambodia, Thailand and Liberia, no social protection, child labour and minimal wages are common. In contrast, FairDeal pay a price premium to rubber producers which is used to provide essential facilities like piped water, lockers, lunch areas and healthcare. All French Letter latex is sourced from certified sustainably-managed rubber plantations.

Why buy Fairtrade cotton?

Cotton has a bloody history. The early British Empire ruthlessly stopped Indian peasants weaving traditional hand-spun cloth, cutting off weavers’ hands. India was forced to become no more than a supplier of raw cotton for the Lancashire mills. Even this was sidelined as Britain found a source of cheaper cotton – grown by African slaves transported to the US plantations and treated with unparallelled brutality.

"Babubhai Parmer, Indian cotton farmer

Between 1998 and 2005, 4,500 Indian cotton farmers committed suicide in one state alone, part of a wider epidemic across India’s cotton-growing regions (Frontline World: Rough Cut, Seeds of Suicide: India’s Desperate Farmers). Many of these took their own lives overcome by debt. Their income had been squeezed between, on the one hand, the rising costs of fertilisers and seeds and on the other, falling prices for cotton. A staggering 100 million households across the world depend in some way on the growing, processing or selling of cotton.

Farmers in African nations like Burkina Faso, Benin, Chad, Mali and Togo often rely on cotton for half their income. Most of the cotton is grown on small family farms of about a half to two hectares, alongside food crops like millet. Farmers usually use animals for ploughing, but all the planting, weeding and harvesting are done by hand. It’s hard work, but much of the income small farmers earn from cotton is spent on basics in the local market – so spilling over into extra jobs and income in the local community.

Cotton plant

Unfortunately rich nations, such as the US, give vast handouts to their farmers to grow and export cotton – so undercutting other producers and pushing down world prices. The US government lavished $4.7 billion on just 25,000 American cotton farms in 2005 – more than the total national wealth of cotton-reliant Burkina Faso. Small farmers in Burkina Faso are among the most efficient in the world, growing cotton for less than a third of the cost of their high-tech, large-scale counterparts in the US. But the US government handouts to their farmers mean they can knock this cost advantage aside and outsell the Burkinan farmer any day.

You can help the small farmers by buying Fairtrade cotton. Our Links page has a clothing section highlighting some of the beautiful Fairtrade brands available.

Why buy Fairtrade peanuts?

As a widow with six children and a carer for Aids orphans, Mary Banda is a busy woman.

“When I lost my husband, I wondered how I would take care of the kids. Since he passed away I have been farming more seriously. I have two acres for groundnuts. With the sales of Fairtrade peanuts I have been able to send two of my children to secondary school.”

The peanuts Mary grows come to the UK via the National Smallholder Farmers Association of Malawi (NASFAM). They are roasted and salted before being packed into distinctive green bags bearing the grinning face of BAFTA-winning TV comedian Harry Hill. A long term supporter of Fairtrade, Harry has teamed up with 100% Fairtrade nut company Liberation to launch his own brand of Fairtrade peanuts.The nuts will be available in 50g packs at a RRP of 59p per pack. Harry will make no money from this venture so that as much revenue as possible will go back to the smallholder farmers in Africa and Latin America.

Small scale farmers from Malawi and Nicaragua supply the nuts and receive a fair price for their work, as well as the Fairtrade premium to invest in their communities. Harry visited the Malawian farmers, including Mary, earlier in 2008. Harry said:

“In Malawi I was particularly struck by how positively the peanut famers viewed the chance to get their peanuts onto the Fairtrade scheme and the real difference it seemed to be making to their lives. Simple things like being able to install a tin roof on their homes rather than a straw one and being able to use a machine to shell the nuts instead of having to do the whole thing by hand.”

For the farmers in Malawi, Fairtrade has meant they can export their peanuts for the first time in many years. Various factors led to the collapse of Malawi’s peanut industry in the 1970s and China, America and Argentina dominated the global market. NASFAM, working with Liberation and Fairtrade pioneer TWIN Trading, has begun to get peanuts from Malawi back on UK shelves again.

Is Fairtrade a subsidy that encourages farmers to grow more coffee and therefore contribute to global oversupply and low prices?

Absolutely not. Subsidies are government payments which lower the price of goods with the intention of encouraging their production and/or consumption or of making them more competitive than imported goods. The cost of these subsidies is borne by taxpayers or consumers.

Fairtrade, on the other hand, is a voluntary model of trade that brings consumers and companies together to offer small-scale farmers a price for their coffee that covers the cost of production and provides a sustainable livelihood so that they can send their kids to school and pay their bills.

Oversupply is usually a result of coffee growers increasing production in the brief periods when prices are high. However, it is clear that the recent surge in global coffee production, and consequent low prices, is largely a result of government agricultural export policies in Vietnam and large-scale farm expansion in Brazil. Paradoxically, in an attempt to compensate for lower prices, many small-scale farmers dependent on coffee will increase output at the expense of quality.

But our experience suggests that paying a higher Fairtrade price need not increase production; rather, it gives farmers other options – to invest in quality improvements and gain access to speciality markets or diversify into other crops to reduce their dependence on coffee.

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