I had the pleasure of travelling with a group from the Canadian Fair Trade Network this November to visit Fair Trade coffee, cocoa, panela and banana farmers in Peru.
With in my community skepticism and distrust of fair trade is high. You see it with the many coffee shops choosing direct trade over fair trade, you see it in universities with professors denying the benefits of the alternative system of business and you see it with the lack of willingness of local businesses to carry more fair trade products.
Fair Trade does work. It is a better way of doing business and there needs to be more demand for it. Part of the skepticism, predominantly within coffee, is that farmers aren’t actually getting a fair price for their product. The reality is, is that farmers who have become certified are selling all products under fair trade principles but on average only 17% is sold at fair trade price, the rest at market price. The reason for this is that the demand for fair trade is not high enough, if demand was higher than farmers can potentially sell 100% of their coffee at fair trade prices.
We started our adventure at the headquarters of Norandino, a two tiered co-op in Piura, Peru. They process, package and ship coffee, cocoa beans and panela to Europe, USA, Canada and Asia. Norandino is a co-op of 29 other co-ops, supporting 7000 producers with 70% of the profits going back to the producers. They are able to accomplish this because of the fair trade system and I heard them very clearly when they said “Without fair trade, we would not be here”.
Having the control over processing and packaging is what allows for the 70% profit. It has been becoming more of a priority for producers to do the processing of products in origin country for this very reason. Fair trade is about giving that control back to the producer, conventional streams want to own the whole supply chain, because that is where the money is.
They sell 75% of the coffee and 100% of the panela at Fair Trade pricing.
They process 500 000 pounds of coffee a year, 10% of Peru’s coffee export and 1700 tons of cocoa (mostly to Europe).
Fair Trade is not just about money. Let’s remind ourselves about the principles of fair trade:
Create Opportunities for economically and socially marginalized farmers and artisans. Fair trade is a strategy for poverty alleviation and sustainable development achieved through long-term trading partnerships.
Develop Transparent and Accountable Relationships with artisans and farmers to ensure that relationships are open, fair, consistent, and respectful.
Build Capacity of farmers, artisans, and their communities. Investing time and resources to help producers build their businesses and create sustainable supply chains.
Promote Fair Trade by raising awareness about fair trade, educating customers and producers, and inspiring other businesses to adopt fair trade practices.
Pay Promptly and Fairly by discussing costs and pricing openly and honestly so that producers are able to earn a fair wage.
Support Safe and Empowering Working Conditions that are free of discrimination and forced labor. Healthy workplaces empower producers to participate in decision-making.
Cultivate Environmental Stewardship by encouraging responsible use of resources and eco-friendly production.
Ensure the Rights of Children by never using exploitative child labor. Supporting children’s right to security, education, and play and respect the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Respect the Cultural Identity of the farmers and artisans and celebrate diversity. Fair trade products and production methods respect the traditions of the local communities.
How many other forms of trade can say that their product does all this?
I honestly was shocked by the success of Norandino, I shouldn’t have but I was. As we went from co-op to co-op by the end it really hit me that these farmers are changing the world!
I know these principle and have reiterated them many times but to see them actually being implement into the farmers lives, their families, their communities and their country made me feel like I had no effect on this world. They are doing all the heavy lifting (figuratively and literally) and that for me fair trade is a choice and a lifestyle not a necessity. For these farmers, it's a way out of poverty and most importantly it's business, better business.
In the next couple weeks I will have blogs with lots of picture for each of the four farmer co-ops we visited and explain a little more about how they are changing the world. Curious what a coffee plant looks like or the inside of a cocoa pod? Maybe you want to know how sugar is made or perhaps where your delicious fair trade bananas comes from? Read on!