When Pam asked me to do an article on fair trade my reaction was…. on What? Being naturally curious I started researching the subject and some interesting info emerged.
We know that buying locally from small farmer’s addresses environmental responsibility, agricultural sustainability, and fair wages as well as providing fresh food directly to our tables. But what about the items that don’t grow where we live? Have you ever given thought to where your coffee, tea, and spices come from and what happens between the growing and retailing of these products?
These items are grown in environmentally responsible ways by some small-scale growers mostly in the developing world. We can encourage these good practices by offering a fair wage for their efforts. This approach, termed fair trade, has grown into an impressive international effort to counter the growing exploitation of farmers in these same countries. Consumer support for conscientious small growers helps counter the corporate advantage and sustains their livelihoods, environments, and communities.
Bananas are one of the most popular and most consumed fruits in the world. Yet, large multinational corporations control a large percentage of the banana trade; Dole and Chiquita together control more than 50%. Most bananas are produced in the Caribbean and Central and South America, and reports of unfair labor conditions among the large corporate plantations abound. Fair Trade is cutting out the corporate influence by providing banana farmers a direct connection into the marketplace. The instinct to buy bananas is so automatic that we rarely think about where the fruit we cut up for our cereal or bake into banana bread comes from or who grows it. We head to the farmers’ markets and learn varieties of corn, or check whether meat or poultry is sustainably and ethically raised. But when it comes to bananas — which are cheap, available year-round, nutritious, and wrapped in their own pretty packages — the fruit gets taken for granted. That’s in spite of the fact that the average consumption in the United States is 26 pounds a year. Bananas have a long and tangled history, some of which includes very low wages to workers, political interference, and environmental dangers. But until now, consumers haven’t been able to do anything to show their support for oppressed farmers.
Fair Trade farmers and artisans respect the natural habitat and are encouraged to engage in sustainable production methods. Farmers implement integrated crop management and avoid the use of toxic agrochemicals for pest management. Nearly 85% of Fair Trade Certified™ coffee is also organic. Fair Trade Certified coffee directly supports a better life for farming families in the developing world through fair prices, community development and environmental stewardship. Fair Trade farmers market their own harvests through direct, long-term contracts with international buyers, learning how to manage their businesses and compete in the global marketplace. Workers on Fair Trade farms enjoy freedom of association, safe working conditions and fair wages. Forced child labor is strictly prohibited.
More and more consumers are not only asking “Is this good for me?” but also “Is this good for others and the environment?” According to a recent study, 90% of Americans say it’s important for companies to be mindful of their impact on the environment and society, and 70% say they’re more likely to support companies that do.
There are thousands of online sites, and retail outlets where consumers can buy Fair Trade products. Since Fair Trade standards vary, educate yourself about the practices included in Fair Trade certifications, products, and vendors. Whenever possible, seek out companies that are 100% dedicated to producing Fair Trade products. With Fair Trade products so widely available, you can also use online search engines to find national and local outlets, especially with keywords “Fair Trade”, product type and your zip code or state.
By Hazel Bacigalupo