How fair is Fairtrade?
In August 2007, a group of women from Britain travelled to Nicaragua with NSC to meet coffee producers, with the aim of finding out how fair Fairtrade really is.
Study tour member Karen Lawson writes: ‘Our stay with Melba Estrada, who visited Bristol and London in 2006, brought home how tough life is for the producers. Melba, a widow with six children, keeps pigs and chickens, and grows vegetables, beans and coffee. It takes her just over half an hour to walk up the steep mountain to her plot of land. For the group, which travelled part way on horseback, the exhausting journey took over an hour. During harvest time, sacks of beans have to be carried back to the trails to be loaded onto the animals.
All coffee producers were unanimous that Fairtrade brings enormous benefits. They can send their children to school – perhaps even to university – and pay for their uniforms, pencils and books. They have access to credit to develop their farms, and they invest the Fairtrade premium in healthcare and education. However, while the producers value very highly the security offered by the fixed price they receive, Fairtrade is squeezed by global markets dominated by transnational companies, and is still far from fair. For example, the $1.26 -per-lb Fairtrade price for coffee has not increased for ten years, despite substantial rises in the cost of production and in the price consumers pay.
So is it fair? Well, in one sense, no. It doesn’t address the fundamental problems of trade injustice. Even with Fairtrade, the substantial profits made from the sale of coffee don’t reach producers. Instead, they go to the middlemen. That said, Fairtrade is undoubtedly a much better system for coffee producers than selling to the general market. This was a very clear message from all the coffee producers to the fair trade study tour group. Should you buy Fairtrade products? Most definitely, yes!
The Fairtrade Labelling Organisation (FLO) announced that, as of June 1, the Fairtrade social premium for Arabica coffee will be increased from 5c to 10c per lb. FLO is also surveying producers and companies selling Fairtrade products about increasing the Fairtrade minimum price.
NSC is organising a fair trade and community tourism study to Nicaragua from June 28 – July 11, 2008.