Before I get too carried away, I’d like to define the principle of fair trade products, whether retail goods, produce, coffee, or even chocolate, by using the Fairtrade Foundation definition.
The Fairtrade Foundation is a UK organization which points out that fair trade is simply about insuring that local workers get a decent wage for their labor by insisting that purchasers pay sustainable prices.
Normally, these purchasing agents are companies, and some – like Wedge Worldwide coops - do a very good job of trading fairly. Others, like Starbucks (coffee) and Wal-Mart (everything) do not.
In spite of that, a report from Fair Trade USA shows that, in 2010, fair trade product sales in the U.S. rose on average 86 percent over 2009. These products included primarily cocoa, tea, sugar, vanilla and other spices, grains and honey. It also included a surprising category – wine.
What was not included was coffee, but that is because coffee has already seen its fair trade war successfully launched and won. This occurred after the failure
of the 1962 International Coffee Agreement (ICA), by the International Coffee Organization (an offshoot of the United Nations) in 1989.
The ICA, in both its original form and successive adaptations, was an international attempt to level the playing field for growers. When it failed, largely bec
ause of uncertainty in growing conditions in countries like Brazil – and repeated attempts to draft newer and more protective agreements to which no one could agree – coffee producers from 1990 to 1992 operated in the sort of wildly unregulated free market economy that generated the lowest coffee prices in a half century.
After that, a new model was created – producers interacting directly with buyers – and fair trade coffee set the stage for other commodities from developing nations to earn their “fair share” of the capitalist pie.
Even though fair trade is primarily a European “invention”, originating in the Netherlands in 1988 in response to falling world coffee prices, with this newest report the U.S. has now established itself as fully within the mainstream of fair trade purchasing, and the news is a ray of sunshine in an otherwise bleak global economic profile.
According to the Fair Trade USA report, not only did U.S. fair trade sales skyrocket, but 92 new producer groups, representing roughly 140,000 more farmers, joined the fair trade system, putting the total number of producer organizations at 878.
These organizations represent 70 countries around the world, most of them developing nations where wages have failed to keep pace with food and fuel prices, let alone the cost of essentials like rent, clothing, medical care and education. Knowing this, we can be even more pleased that, in just 12 short years, the principle of fair trade has taken root in the American consumer’s consciousness, in spite of that persistent recession. In fact, one might almost call it a meme.
The 63-page report is filled with facts and figures, but also reveals the human side to fair trade, like the $14 million invested in development projects – everything from the smallest coffee plantation in Brazil to Kenya’s newest fair trade tea plantation.
For example, consider the 39.2 hectare (96.8 acre) Jairo Jesús Lopera Lopera family banana farm in the Uraba region of Colombia. The farm is viewed as small alongside Dole’s Philippines plantation, where the workers are essentially slave lab
or and miles of monocropped pineapple and banana trees deprive the people of drinking water and the soil of its natural tilth. But the Lopera farm is making its mark in the world economy, largely because a growing number of individuals of all nations recognize the dangerous unfairness of starving one nation to feed another and fatten global corporations.
If Fair Trade does nothing else, it shows that capitalism is possible if all the participants think of one another as human beings, equal under the law. The next time you run out to buy coffee, or a chocolate bar, or that favorite brand of tea, be sure to check the label.
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