Why do Fairtrade?

There are many hurdles to overcome when you are living in the middle class of the western world and trying to get your head around extreme poverty and exploitation. We have so many support structures on the individual and communal levels that we struggle to believe that bribery could take away your basic rights, that an option against poverty is to sell your child as a slave or that a western company would allow chemicals into the developing world that they know cause awful birth defects. We expect more of the average human being and so assume that people will do the right thing as they bring us our daily needs.

For most westerners, the absence of the mildest forms of poverty prevents us from understanding the depth that people will sink to when life and health is at stake. Your part in Fair Trade brings answers to these key issues that affect those on the first rung of production, the farmers and producers.

Fairtrade helps bring answers to:

 

1. Child Labour. The most recent UNHCR figures put children participating in labour at 158 million# worldwide. Child labour not only robs them of play and education but sees children working in extremely vulnerable situations where further exploitation can be carried out. In the light of recent growing unemployment and under employment of adults this should not be the case. The prohibition of child labour* that prevents that child from education or engages him or her in hazardous/elongated production is universal to all fairtrade certifications. Furthermore, fairtrade insists on employers taking part in providing schooling arrangements for the children of their workers. In cultures where child labour has been common Fairtrade brings an ongoing gritty counter to those cultures, benefiting the whole community.

# Intro to UNICEF report www.unicef.org/protection/index_childlabour.html

*See Generic Fairtrade Standards at pg. 10, 13 www.fairtrade.net/fileadmin/user_upload/content/HL_Aug09_EN.pdf

 

2. Education Deficiencies. When dignity comes to a household and community via fair pay and conditions, education is one of the first things that the local seek to improve. So many testimonials regarding the spending of the Fairtrade Premium focus on either pre or primary schools being built. The producers understand very clearly that their ability in literacy, numeracy and broader disciplines has been a key player in their poverty. Thus the chance to have their children avoid some of the troubles they have had to bear is a sweet and quickly grasped opportunity. Goal 2 of the MDGs, to achieve universal primary education, is one goal where Africa has exceeded most other regions # and where Fairtrade is making a big impact, boosting sorely needed trade and enhancing communities.

# UN Report on MDG progress unstats.un.org/unsd/mdg/Resources/Static/Products/Progress2010/MDG_Report_2010_En_low%20res.pdf

 

3. The increasing gap between the rich and poor. Sharing the earths resources and wealth fairly has always been a challenge for us humans. The current statistics*, at national and global levels, carry on moving toward a wider gap, despite the growing middle class^ of Asia. Whether you blame this on unfair international trade rules or greed there needs to be mechanisms put in place to kerb this trend. Fair trade maintains a minimum payment level that is reviewed on a regular basis to keep in step with inflation etc. Once a corporate or individual joins with Fairtrade they can never buy below this floor price no matter how much shareholders put on pressure for more profits or the global economy changes. The most vulnerable link in the chain, the producer is protected.

*see this Sydney Morning Herald Article www.smh.com.au/news/federal-election-2007-news/gap-between-rich-and-poor-wider-than-ever/2007/11/09/1194329512823.html

*Stats on the global wealth gap from World Resources Institute www.wri.org/publication/content/8659

^See this paper on the Global Middle Class at www.oecd.org/dataoecd/12/52/44457738.pdf

 

4. Those who are fully employed but are still in abject poverty. According to the UN The working poor are defined as those who are employed but live in households where individual members subsist on less than $1.25 a day* That we have come this far as a civilisation and still accept that people can make our goods or produce our food and live in such a state is an indictment on our humanity. Our participation in this form or trade is fuelled largely by ignorance and the lack of accountability of big business in how they treat workers in far off countries. Fair trade does two great things for us at this point:-

 It holds small and large business to account through reporting, ongoing audit and inspection from producer to retailer, thus giving us an assurance that the producers have been paid.

 It thus takes our grand task (that or Jose, Joe or Joanne Consumer looking after world trade) from the impossible to the simple by buying products marked with the Fairtrade label or those from fair trade suppliers (handcrafts)

*UN report on the progress of the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) 

 

5. Unfair World Trade Agreements (such as EPAs (Economic Partnership Agreements) are creating free trade that is too often bias towards the richer nations. EPAs are free trade agreements which mean both sides agree to reduce the taxes (known as tariffs) on goods coming in. This might sound good in theory but free trade is only fair when all sides are equal and the EU and ACP (Africa, Caribbean and Pacific nations) are far from equal partners. With this and other trade rules set by the WTO (World Trade Organisation) developing countries face stiff competition from countries with greater industrialisation and subsidies ($US50 million in the US and $US75 billion in the EU per annum) Kofi Annan stated that many developing countries feel they have been taken for a ride# by complying with WTO rules that end up favouring the wealthy over the poorer nations. The presence of fair trade campaigners such as Traidcraft, Oxfam and the 19 labelling initiatives round the world are a means to holding governments accountable for their decisions.

# see pg 22 of Kofi Annans Laying the foundations of a fair and free world trade system unu.edu/news/wto/ch01.pdf

Traidcrafts Q&A on EPAs www.traidcraft.co.uk/get_involved/campaign/stop_epas/faq/

EPAs report australia.to/2010/index.php

East Asia Times article on subsidies www.southasiatimes.com.au/news/rich-nations%E2%80%99-farm-subsidies-help-big-landlordscompanies/

 

6. World Financial Crises Living wages enable countries and communities to better handle the knock on effects of financial crises such as the GFC. We have all experienced the effects of the GFC in our lives. It has been hard for some of us to believe that well paid and educated executives have taken ridiculous risks that have now come to bear on our lives. If you feel far removed from those lofty places then spare a thought for the developing world. A recent report* by the ILO (the International Labour Organisation) has shown that the developing world has received significant shocks to their economies. Employment dropped, some wages decreased and wage arrears (non payment), all this in the light of the other GFC (the Global Food Crisis) where many staple foods rose by up to 100% in one year. This combination of pressures at that level can mean:-

If this continues what is difficult to deal with in the west becomes life threatening for the poor. The intensity of life with unemployment rises significantly when you are at the bottom of the economic ladder already.

Trading fairly with emerging economies will form a natural barrier that decreases the knock on shocks to the households and economies of the developing world. If rules (such as fair trade) are already in place before a crisis, then recovery can be much quicker as the excuse to cut wages or the value of commodities is combated by those rules.

*Trade and Employment in the Global Crisis at www.ilo.org/global/publications/ilo-bookstore/order-online/books/WCMS_141911/lang--en/index.htm

*The new study also said that the major share of the cost of the current financial and economic crisis will rest on the shoulders of hundreds of millions of people who have not shared in the benefits of the previous global economic expansion.

www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp

# UN Report on MDG progress unstats.un.org/unsd/mdg/Resources/Static/Products/Progress2010/MDG_Report_2010_En_low%20res.pdf