Fairtrade problems on the ground

Not a good week of press for Fairtrade. FT:

“Ethical” coffee is being produced in Peru, the world’s top exporter of Fairtrade coffee, by labourers paid less than the legal minimum wage. Industry insiders have also told the Financial Times of non-certified coffee being marked and exported as Fairtrade, and of certified coffee being illegally planted in areas of protected rainforest.

And more from Alex Singleton, who just visited Africa:

Out in rural Kenya last week, I found that there was some scepticism towards the traditional view the co-operatives are always forces for good. In fact, in Kenya, the coffee co-operatives have suffered from significant mismanagement, with individual farmers often exploited by the leaders of the co-operatives. In fairness, Kenya has been trying to help rebalance the situation, for example introducing six year term limits on co-operative leaders. I do worry that spokespeople for the Fairtrade movement suffer from a myopic romantic vision of the coffee farmer in a co-operative, which the truth such an existence is backbreaking and mired in exploitation.

2 thoughts on “Fairtrade problems on the ground

  1. Anonymous

    This is the letter response (published 13 September 2006)of the Fairtrade Foundation to the FT article linked to above.

    Sir, The Fairtrade system takes very seriously the issues raised in Hal Weitzman’s article “Bitter cost of ‘fair trade’ coffee” (September 9). Our core aim is to enable poor farmers to move incrementally towards sustainable development. This vision underpins the way Fairtrade works which is why the public can be confident in the integrity of the certification system behind the Fairtrade Mark.

    All workers hired directly by farmers’ organisations must be paid legal minimum wages. Fairtrade inspects against this and treats non-compliance with great seriousness.

    Fairtrade recognises that farmers who sell only a small proportion of their crop on Fairtrade terms will often struggle to earn the minimum wage themselves. That is why our standards state that they must share any benefits of Fairtrade and progressively improve working conditions. These farms were paying workers 25 per cent above what they could get elsewhere, despite selling just 10-15 per cent of their total crop on Fairtrade terms.

    Claims that non-certified coffee is being sold as Fairtrade are overstated. We are confident that Fairtrade certification is robust on this. Our trade audit system does detect anomalies where they occur, and seeks correction. As Mr Weitzman was informed, a trader inspection on this very issue is already under way in Peru.

    Shade-grown coffee can be cultivated entirely in harmony with the preservation of rainforests and even assists by giving farmers a stake in the process. This year Fairtrade environmental standards were strengthened, with a transition period to enable producer groups to comply with new requirements. These prohibit coffee planting in designated conservation areas. For other rainforest areas, no new planting is allowed unless it can be shown that this can be achieved in harmony with preservation of the forest and only if no other arable land is available.

    Tackling complex development issues requires a sophisticated response, and Fairtrade systems are constantly being strengthened to deliver this. We have yet to see the conventional, uncertified market offer a better alternative.

    Harriet Lamb, Executive Director,Fairtrade Foundation

  2. Anonymous

    This is another letter response (published 23 September 2006) to the FT article linked to above

    How the Fairtrade ethos seeks to protect the growers by Penny Newman

    Sir, Cafédirect takes seriously issues raised about Fairtrade coffee (“Bitter cost of ‘fair trade’ coffee”, September 9). A core ethos of Fairtrade is to work towards sustainable development, and the Fairtrade Licensing Organisation (FLO) works with coffee growers’ organisations to help them constantly improve to achieve this, while still trading in difficult circumstances.

    The FLO standards require farmers’ organisations to pay legal minimum wages for hired workers. FLO-Cert inspects against these and treats non-compliance with great seriousness. The standards also state that small farmers, who are living below the minimum wage themselves, take steps to improve working conditions of temporary workers. In line with local cultural practices, many receive benefits beyond payment – accommodation, meals and produce.

    As our name implies we only buy tea, coffee and cocoa direct from growers. Furthermore we support our grower partners with long and mutually beneficial trading relationships.

    The Fairtrade system recognises the importance of environmental sustainability, and we work with our grower partners to enable them to comply with tougher new environmental requirements. One of our partners in Peru said recently: “Coffee is a noble crop – it is bringing back the forest”, because it has helped discourage deforestation.

    We want to ensure more growers earn a fair price, and can build a better future for themselves and their families instead of being reliant on the conventional system.

    Penny Newman, Chief Executive Officer, Cafédirect

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