As we are long term supporters of Traidcraft I thought it important to give their reply to the criticisms, so here it is!
Supporters may have seen recent press coverage about Fairtrade. In reporting on a recent four-year study by development economists from the School of Oriental and African Studies, the focus was on the benefits of Fairtrade certification in two countries in Africa, Ethiopia and Uganda. Traidcraft doesn’t source tea or coffee from any of the groups mentioned in the SOAS report.
We welcome the research and we are keen to learn from it. However, we are sorry that instead of assisting in the continuous progress and improvement of Fairtrade, a certification system that has impacted positively on the lives of millions of smallholder farmers and growers, the findings are being used in the media to attempt to cast doubt on its impact on poverty.
Fairtrade has historically focused on smallholder farmers, but this study concentrates on agricultural wage labourers. It has been recognised that Fairtrade standards should be revised to do more for wage labourers, and hired labour standards have recently been revised. There is no doubt that in most cases, these workers are poorer than the farmers who employ them. However, such changes take time to filter through to poverty’s front line. And time is a key issue.
With 35 years of experience of working with smallholder farmers and fighting for trade justice, we believe it is wrong to draw from this study the conclusion that Fairtrade does not improve the lives of the poor. At Traidcraft, we don’t just believe that fair trade works for the very poor, we know it does. We’ve seen it happen over decades, with whole communities transformed.
Traidcraft works very differently to mainstream buyers of Fairtrade, and our development approach for our producers goes beyond Fairtrade certification.
From the people we choose to work with – usually smaller farmer co-operatives and groups in more remote areas who share our values and mission for change; to the way we choose to work with them – by supporting organisational process and helping farmers to make better choices for themselves; our approach goes well beyond simply buying from the Fairtrade register of producers.
Since its inception, Traidcraft has chosen to develop longer-term partnerships so that we can enable progress over a longer period. We work to build the capacity of our producer organisations, putting in place systems and processes to encourage democratic decisions on issues like premium projects, working conditions, children and education.
We know that Fairtrade is good for marginal producers. 35 years of experience with farmers, their families and communities tells us this is so. Where we implement projects, neighbouring farmers and groups see the benefits and are keen to become involved.
Research such as this study, which can be used in a positive way to drive the continuous improvement that has long been the policy for Fairtrade, is always welcome. Traidcraft will continue to work within the Fairtrade system to evolve and deepen its impact. Transparency about impacts must be a key driver, but we believe the improvement in livelihoods is there for all to see.
Consumers should not lose faith in a system which can’t possibly hope to do everything, but which has done so much to transform lives in poor communities across the world.