viernes, 11 de septiembre de 2015

Be fair, respectful and generous - go Fair Trade

Ethical Markets represent the effort that is build upon the way we uplift the human well-being as well as ecological integrity. This movement is very important today as we are well aware that humans have the ability to destroy the environment.

Therefore, Fair Trade as part of Ethical Markets, has become one of the most important global movement. We live in a business world where things are measured in euros, dollars and pounds. Trade, as a sacred art of exchange, is the most ancient practice. Unequal trade, when countries unable, unprepared, un-knowledgeable traded it was a seen as a one of the reasons of increasing the poverty gap between countries. But trade created wealth for those that used it wisely and knowledgeably. Who came first, the poverty or the wealth?

Fair Trade is the knowing that we must treat people with respect. Fair Trade policies are meant to maintain small-farmers their traditional lifestyle and earn a living wage. It is more than what ethical trade represents. It's about engaging people into co-operatives where they can freely decide about their way of work and life, providing fair trade and fair prices.

Ethical trade means that the companies are trying to ensure that the farmers in developing countries that grow their products have decent working conditions. It also includes the efforts to reform obsolete, malfunctioning economic models that ignore social, human and environmental costs. Governments must promote and enforce decent work and sustainable development 

Many companies find outsourcing in developing countries a way to reduce cost and increase their profit. They are well aware of what is happening in the production facilities as they have representatives there all the time, checking on quality (read more about that in my article "Inditex - Bienvenido en Macedonia!") Many of them have adopted corporate codes of conduct dealing with Corporate Social Responsibility. That is being far from ethical markets. 

It means that companies tend to control every aspect of their production, because it is in their best interest.

That doesn't mean we as a consumers have to pay more for a "fair trade" labelled products, but to ensure that the labour conditions in developing world are maintained at decent level. The cost of labour is only a small fraction in the price we are paying. The goods are overpriced while labour conditions under which the goods were produced is extremely low due to so called "race to the bottom". 

Instead of focusing of export of raw materials and unfinished good, whenever that is possible, the country should aim to get into world trade with processed goods, where more value is added. That's where the profit comes from. That's how the wealth is created. While we might find difficult to control a multinational if it goes fair or not, we might find it easier to control when a country goes fair or not.  

Therefor there is a debate weather a fair trade certificate should be awarded to multinationals.

The problem with fair trade is that despite it success, only a selected group of overseas producer cooperatives are involved and very few of them are coming from the poorest countries. In order to receive the minimum price guaranteed they must pay to be certified, join a cooperative, agree to certain standards for using pesticides and pay fair wages to their laborers. As a result of that many small farmers that are not in cooperatives, can be excluded from the benefits of Fair Trade. Some argue that few of the fair trade certified products come from the poorest countries.

Myself had been working in agriculture on tobacco fields in Prilep, Macedonia and I know how difficult, laborious and under-payed it can be. But I also know how much care and effort we put to get the best quality possible by providing special care to every leaf and every tobacco plant. Your hands are yellow, damaged from the needle and have to wake up every morning at 3 a.m. to be able to collect as much tobacco as possible before the sun hits high up in the sky.

My point is that as I could read and confirm what I read with my own experience, agricultural work is often very laborious and time consuming. As in my case, whole family is employed and try to share the workload. That can leave less time, or no time for studding, spending time with friends. Some would say that the answer is to produce less not more so people to be able to improve their situation and get out of poverty through education and access to better paid jobs.

It is said that the coffee is that one commodity that illustrates the problems  that agricultural producers confront. The price of coffee can fluctuate significantly and in recent years it have shown a dramatic fall. 

Unlike other agricultural products that might be grown in big plantations, coffee is grown on small independent farm. It takes three years for the coffee bush to produce it's first beans. There are many small farmers around the world and their is an oversupply of coffee that pushes the prices further down. 

Another problem is power related. Small farmers have little or no power to dominate the retailing phase of the product. Between them and the final consumer there is a number of wholesalers and other intermediaries. It is said that coffee beans can change hands more than 150 times between the farmer and the supermarket, and every time price is growing. 

It is still difficult to separate real commitment  from marketing when it comes to why companies commit to Fair Trade. We need a company who is well known among consumers to share the values and engage consumers into buying its Fair Trade certified products.  

When we look for a "Fair Trade label" we look to be assured that poor farmers have not have been exploited, nor children were employed or natural resources have been despoiled. 

Well, poor people like us can not eat talk. While trying to figure out how to make this world more rightful for people that work and care creating a small wealth for themselves and others, I could only take a sip of my favorite fair trade coffee and I can invite you all to do the same. We might not save the world alone, but you know, every effort counts. Buying Fair Trade is our personal, consumer power in action. Make a statement, buy Fair Trade!
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