I just got back from hearing Harriet Lamb, CEO of Fairtrade International, speak about the Fairtrade movement. Harriet and her stories are inspirational. She talked about people who’s lives have been turned around through Fairtrade and told some great stories about ordinary people in ‘rich’ countries who have been campaigning for Fairtrade.
In the today’s dominant free market system, producers must accept whatever price they are offered for their crops. A small number of huge multinational corporations often set prices far below cost, leaving farmers destitute. These are a huge portion of the 2 billion people living on less than $1 per day.
The Fairtrade system helps farmers in the developing world get a better deal for the food they produce. Farmers receive the market price for their produce unless that price goes below an agreed minimum amount (which takes into account the cost of producing the crops). In that case buyers must pay the Fairtrade minimum price. So even when markets are bad, they can still afford to live.
The farming communities also get an extra lump sum of money, called the Fairtrade premium, and they decide democratically how to use it. They generally invest it in things like schools, medical centres, or growing their business. They’re also have to meet environmental standards. We heard about a banana growing cooperative where stream water is now safe to drink, something unheard of on the large corporates plantations. The same community now has 17 teachers who they pay using their Fairtrade premium.
To support this kind of change, shoppers just need is to buy products with the Fairtrade mark on them:
I loved Harriet’s story about Cadbury in the UK. After years of receiving hundreds of letters from customers they finally converted one of their chocolate bars to Fairtrade. After the announcement, the CEO started receiving all these congratulations letters and shiny decorated cards! He said he’d never gotten anything like it before. After the amazing response in the UK, they’ve brought out Fairtrade blocks in several other countries and it sounds like they plan to convert more of their range. (As a side note, I really love the idea of sending shiny decorated cards to companies doing good things, what a great way to encourage them! I’m definitely going to try it out.)
She also told us about a woman in England who one day walked into her local pub and asked if they would stock Fairtrade coffee and tea. Her simple request led to that entire chain of pubs (several hundred) converting to Fairtrade almost overnight. That chain has since been taken over by a bigger chain and they’ve converted Fairtrade too. And it all started with one person being bold, walking in and making a simple request.
I also bought Harriet’s book ‘Fighting the Banana Wars’. It’s a great book and I highly recommend it. Very compelling reading. I happened to have a copy from the library in my handbag since I was halfway through reading it, so got her to sign both copies. “To the great people of Auckland, lets make Auckland a Fairtrade city, all the best, Harriet”
The Fairtrade movement is fantastic, its all about people power, little choices that make a big difference and supporting people in poverty to help themselves. If you want to know more about it have a listen to this great radio interview with Harriet Lamb or visit the Fairtrade website.