Sweet Side: Fairtrade…is it really?


Meg Ast

Fairtrade is about better prices, decent working conditions and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers.  It gives farming and worker communities more control over their futures as well as protecting the environment where they work and live.

The Fairtrade Mark means that Fairtrade ingredients have been used in the making of the product and have been produced by small-scale farming organizations or plantations that meet the Fairtrade social, economic and environmental standards.

Fairtrade allows for the small farmer to maintain his/her independence and self-respect by earning an income through trade and removing the dependence on aid to maintain their livelihoods.

The Fairtrade standards include the protection of workers’ rights, the environment, payment of the Fairtrade Minimum Price and an additional Fairtrade Premium to invest in business or community projects.  Workers and farmers determine how the Fairtrade Premium should be invested. The premium is additional funds paid on top of the Fairtrade Minimum Price which can then be invested in social, environmental and economic development projects to improve their businesses or communities.

There are two types of Fairtrade: one being Fairtrade coffee, cocoa, cotton and rice. These products are produced by small-scale farmers.  Fairtrade offers these rural farmers the stability of income which allows them to plan for their futures.  The other type of Fairtrade are for plantations which produce bananas, teas and flowers. These companies employ large numbers of people and Fairtrade is there is ensure that workers’ basic rights are protected. This means keeping them safe and healthy, allowing them freedom of association and collective bargaining, preventing discrimination and ensuring no bonded or illegal child labor. These standards also require employers to pay wages that progress toward living wages. It is important to note that Fairtrade is 50 percent owned by farmers and workers.

Since The Frenchman’s Corner is all about chocolate, what is the roll Fairtrade plays in the cocoa industry?  In case you were not aware, approximately 90 percent of the world’s cocoa is grown on small family farms by about 6 million farmers. Cocoa trees grow in tropical environments that are hot, rainy and filled with lush vegetation to provide shade to the cocoa trees. The major growing regions are Africa, Asia and Latin America. The largest producing country by volume is Cote d’Ivoire which produces around 40 percent of the global supply.  Cocoa trees require a tremendous amount of care.  They begin to produce cocoa beans at peak production levels only after five years and continue at this level for a total of 10 years. After all this, cocoa farmers gain very little from a very profitable global cocoa trade.

The international price of cocoa beans is currently rising due to the high demand for cocoa products. There is a real threat of a potential long-term shortfall in global supply due to disease and age of the trees and the fact that the farmers are so poor that young people don’t wish to remain in the industry.  The average age of a cocoa farmer is 50!

Fairtrade Premiums in places such as the Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana allow for the investing of money in business and community projects and aid in the long-term sustainability of cocoa farming.

Back to the subject line of this article, is Fairtrade really fair?  Based on what I read the answer is unequivocally “YES,” it puts people back at the heart of trade.  Fairtrade does what it says it will do, it is about better prices for small farmers and workers in developing countries.  It addresses the injustices of conventional trade, which leaves behind the poorest, weakest producers earning less than it costs to grow their crops. It is a national minimum wage for global trade.  It is not perfect but it is a step in the right direction.