As responsible consumers, fair trade products ensure money goes towards companies that use ethical business practices, green technology and safe working conditions.  The fair trade logo supposedly signals that coffee is produced with certain standards in mind.  In the coffee industry, the fair trade movement seeks to benefit coffee growers in impoverished areas by donating some of the proceeds to community projects.  Fair trade producers work directly with importers and buyers.  By cutting out the middleman, the fair trade program offers growers a higher price for their beans.  Companies that use fair trade products have to pay a licensing fee to companies like Equal Exchange or Fair Trade USA.  Some of these proceeds go back to the plantation community.

However, Fair Trade USA has implemented some changes to the program that have raised eyebrows.  Equal Exchange, the country’s oldest fair trade company, withdrew support for Fair Trade USA in late 2012 after the USA branch cut ties with parent company Fairtrade International.

Fair Trade USA also stated it would give certification to large plantations as well as small, democratically run cooperatives. This creates a problem because large plantations are already turning profits, while many smaller farms are struggling to survive. The fair trade movement sought to support the cooperatives that were often exploited or overlooked by the big coffee companies. Giving larger plantations accreditation and trade rights eliminates the advantage fair trade was providing for the smaller plantations.

Paul Rice, chief executive of Fair Trade USA says the move was meant to promote the fair trade movement by increasing the supply. Large plantations can grow more beans to meet the demand for fair trade coffee. This allows big-chain retailers like Wal-Mart, Starbucks, and Whole Foods Market to sell fair trade coffee in their stores.

– Stephanie Lamm

Sources: The Nation, New York Times, Fair Trade USA

Coffee, cocoa, and other major products have become the food faces of the fair trade market. Soon, shea butter may well be added to those ranks. But what does this mean for shea butter workers and farmers?

Grown in the Sahel region, farmers extract shea butter from a small almond like nut which grows on the karite tree. From South Sudan to the western shores of Senegal, shea butter extraction provides major labor employment opportunities for women.

Shea butter, used mostly in the cosmetic field, provides multiple dermatologic benefits. These include healing burns, ulcerated skins, stretch marks, and dryness by moisturizing the skin. Recently, the Shea Butter Trade Industry hosted its first conference in North America. The event allowed African producers to meet with L’Oreal, the Body Shop, and other cosmetic industry players. With an expanding demand for shea butter, the creamy exfoliant has potentially reached a level that allows African producers to negotiate fairer prices for their labor.

Currently, the extraction and production of shea butter employs millions of women on in Africa. To access the butter, the nut is crushed. It is then boiled, cleaned once more, packaged and sold in local markets or exported. Despite the individual preparation of shea nuts, women create cooperatives to sell their product in their local markets.

With a rise in demand for their product, many women have also found an increase in income. Empowering women both in their own household and community has given rise to shared decision-making in family and community structures. This sense of freedom through successful employment is set through a traditional service, and many daughters learn it from their mothers who pass down the craft.

But not only do prices and gender equality rise with demand, fair trade over the production market rises as well. As the popularity of shea butter and other new products have reached new levels, Fair trade organizations such as Fairtrade International, have set their efforts towards promoting fair prices that protect producers. “Fair trade addresses the injustices of conventional trade, which too often leave the poorest, weakest producers earning less than it costs them to grow their crops. It’s a bit like a national minimum wage for global trade. Not perfect… but a step in the right direction.” stated Harriet Lamb, CEO of Fairtrade International.

However, there are others that do not believe farmers and laborers benefit from fair trade, citing that there is little evidence of their benefit. Philip Booth, Editorial and Program Director at the Institute of Economic Affairs, contends that “no clear evidence has been produced to suggest that farmers themselves actually receive higher prices under fair trade. Fair trade may do some good in some circumstances, but it does not deserve the unique status it claims for itself.”

Despite a difficulty to decipher between marketing and real action, quantifiable claims made by companies such as L’Occitane, allow agencies to verify what companies claim. Unlike your average marketing attempts, L’Occitane’s claims have been analyzed and reported on by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The written report detailed L’Occitane’s collaboration with 15,000 rural women producers, paying $1.23 million in revenue each year to their shea butter laborers.

– Michael Carney

Sources: How We Made it in Africa, Alaffia
Photo: Tree Aid

Assam tea is a common variety of black tea often preferred for its malty taste. It is produced in the Assam state of India, which is among the world’s largest tea-growing regions. Tea pickers in Assam are paid 12p an hour. At about a dollar per day, this corresponds to roughly half the legal minimum wage for unskilled workers in Assam. These workers pick tea leaves used by almost every brand, from Lipton to Twinings.

Special labels, like Fair Trade, and certifications, such as those from the Rainforest Alliance or the Ethical Tea Partnership, do not guarantee that workers were paid fairly. Wages are established through collective bargaining by associations of growers, and every tea plantation pays the same wages. According to the Indian Tea Association director General Monojit Desgupta, these pitifully low payments are all the growers can afford. In addition to the basic injustice of underpaying workers, this mistreatment causes another deeply troubling problem: child slavery.

With the promise of work, decent pay, and a glamorous life in the big city, traffickers whisk countless children away from their struggling families. Most victims are girls as young as 12. The traffickers then sell the girls for about $50 to agencies that turn around and sell them to the wealthy as slaves at about twelve times that price. Many of these girls’ families never seen them again, and others escape only after enduring appalling conditions for years. Two girls, Rabina Khatun and Elaina Kujar, have recently agreed to share their stories to draw attention to this issue.

A woman promised Rabina work in Delhi as a maid with a monthly wage of 3,000 rupees, or about $40. She worked for two years before she was allowed to go home. When she complained that she had never been paid, the woman sold her to three men who locked her in a house, raped her, and left her penniless at Old Delhi Station. Rabina, now 18, still harbors intense anger against the people who committed crimes against her.

Elaina’s story is similarly appalling. Her family lives on a tea plantation in Assam, where a trafficker came promising a better life for her. She dreamed of being a nurse and believed Delhi would hold opportunities for her. The next four years of her life would be lost serving as a child slave. She recalls how her owner would rape her after watching porn while she laid on the floor beside him. When she told the man’s wife what was happening, he called her a liar and told her to keep her mouth shut. Elaina’s saving grace came when she was sent to a new owner, who took sympathy on her and allowed her to go home.

Elaina and Rabina are not isolated cases, but rather representative spokeswomen for hundreds of thousands of girls who are trafficked against their will. It has been estimated that 100,000 girls are being held in Delhi alone, with countless others sold to the Middle East. Assam has the highest kidnapping rate for women in India, with 3,360 cases registered with police last year. These girls are trafficked because their families are unable to support them adequately with the pitiful wages they are paid for picking tea leaves.

Pressure is being put on tea brands to demand higher wages and better conditions for tea pickers, and they are just beginning to comply. Unilever, the corporation in charge of Lipton Tea, has recently recognized trafficking is a major problem. The Rainforest Alliance, which has certified Lipton, claims it is working towards an agreement that will require workers to be paid a living wage. Major tea company Typhoo also states that it is working to improve their workers’ conditions. These measures prove that public outcry can create change. Their continued efforts will ensure that workers on tea plantations are paid fairly, and that tea drinkers in the first world are not inadvertently contributing to the child sex trade in India.

Katie Fullerton

Sources: Adagio Tea, The Guardian, Mirror News
Photo: Revolution

bruno mars sings for poverty relief
Bruno Mars isn’t just another handsome face singing catchy love songs. He — along with over 70 artists — is partnering with the Global Poverty Project to address poverty worldwide by using a fanbase to raise awareness and funds.

Global Citizen is a website managed by the Global Poverty Project that centralizes information about global poverty and opportunities to help. Its ultimate goal is to increase the number of citizens actively advocating for change. The site is comprised of actions related to education and advocacy campaigning, all of which address 13 key issues:

  • Food and Hunger
  • Primary Education
  • Gender Equality
  • Child Mortality
  • Maternal Health
  • Fighting Diseases
  • Water and Sanitation
  • Environmental Sustainability
  • Global Partnerships
  • Fighting Corruption
  • Effective Governance
  • Polio Eradication
  • Fair Trade

Participation in Global Citizen actions such as watching a video about extreme poverty, signing petitions, contacting representatives or volunteering time or money earn points for users, which can be redeemed for prizes.

14-time Grammy Award nominee Bruno Mars is one of over 70 artists who realize the importance of ending global poverty. As touring recording artists, they are exposed to areas of the world that suffer the effects of extreme poverty in outrageous percentages. Recognizing the power of their celebrity, they have stood up to support the movement. Mars joins a group of industry power-players like Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, Kings of Leon, Kesha, Kanye West, John Mayer and more who have donated at least 2 tickets from each show scheduled in their current tour, resulting in over 20,000 tickets donated to Global Citizen. Once users reach enough points, they can enter a drawing for a chance to win concert tickets. Another option is simply redeeming a higher number of points for tickets, similar to the ‘Buy It Now’ feature on eBay.

Extreme poverty has been cut in half in the last 30 years, and the knowledge and resources necessary to end the crisis completely within a generation are available. It won’t happen overnight, but Global Citizen is breeding an army: an army with the power to end extreme poverty by making informed consumer decisions and advocating for change. Global Citizen and artists like Bruno Mars are helping people to see that every voice counts and every person is capable of changing lives around the world.

– Dana Johnson

Source: Global Citizen, New York Times
Photo: Smash Vault

FarmingThroughout the globe, there are 1.4 billion people living on less than $1.25 a day. Yet according to a new report from the International Fund for Agricultural Development, most of these people could easily be lifted out of extreme poverty if provided with the right support system.

The new report suggests that investments in agriculture, specifically in farms owned by smallholder farmers, are the most efficient way to see decreases in poverty throughout the world. Smallholder farmers own 500 million farms throughout the globe and produce nearly 80% of the world’s food supply. The study states that investment in smallholders is necessary because they produce a majority of the world’s food and play a significant role in poverty reduction. For every 10% increase in farm yields, a seven percent poverty reduction rate has been seen in Africa, and a five percent reduction rate has been seen in Asia.

Smallholder farmers have faced difficulties in the past through “underinvestment in agriculture, growing competition for land and water, rising fuel and fertilizer prices, and climate change.” The International Fund for Agricultural Development advocates for investing in smallholder farmers in order to overcome these challenges, potentially resulting in an increase in crop yields and a reduction in poverty.
The report also emphasizes the importance of using sustainable farming practices. Among its recommendations is the removal of subsidies on unsustainable fertilizers and encouraging farmers to use practices compliant with “fair or green certification schemes.”

The recommendations of the study, if implemented, could result in further fulfillment of the Millennium Development Goals. Among other things, the Goals seek to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger and to ensure environmental sustainability. Investing in smallholder farmers will potentially achieve these goals by increasing farm yields, decreasing poverty, and utilizing sustainable farming practices.

– Jordan Kline
Source: All Africa United Nations

Economist End of PovertyThe June 1st issue of The Economist has the compelling title “Towards the End of Poverty.” The feature article on the topic considers the landscape of future poverty reduction. Poverty has been reduced by 50% in the last twenty years but much work remains. There are still 1.1 billion people that live on less than $1.25 a day. What can the last 20 years of success be attributed to? The Economist argues that capitalism and free trade have been integral to poverty reduction.

In the 1990s economic growth soared in developing countries from an average of 4.3% annually to 6% annually. China has been one of the most notable successes, reducing extreme poverty from 84% to 10% while economic growth has continued to accelerate rapidly. As China’s growth slows, it may be difficult for poverty to decline at the same rate as in previous decades. It is also a continuing challenge to raise people above the $1.25 a day line as policies reach for increasingly poverty-stricken communities that are further from the line.

The Economist is very optimistic that the goal of halving poverty again can be achieved. Despite challenges in keeping up the same pace the article argues that the world already knows what to do – it just remains to keep up the good work. They advocate continued trust in marketization and liberalization as the best processes to aid poverty reduction. It is also important to implement policies that reduce inequality and discontinue policies that emphasize inequality. Nothing reduces poverty like free trade.

– Zoë Meroney

Source: The Economist
Photo: The Economist

The Butterfly Effect
Often, consumers in the developed world assume that the greatest impact they can have on developing countries is philanthropic: by choosing certain products, certain brands and certain charities, they can improve the lives of citizens far away. It is a widely held belief that the developed world’s major interaction with the developing is that of a benevolent elder sibling: offering advice and help when necessary, while also attending to their own, separate affairs.

A recent report by The Atlantic once again highlights how incorrect this idea is. Indeed, the activities of the first world often have profound consequences for the developing world as they bear the brunt of paying for the sins of those who are more advantaged.

From the 1960s to the 1980s, a famine devastated parts of northern Africa, leaving 100,000 dead and upward of 700,000 relying on foreign food aid for survival. Infamous across the world, photos of starving cattle marching across dusty plains and children with shriveled arms and distended bellies still remain burned in many minds. Initially, this was blamed on poor farming practices leading to desertification. New research by scientists, however, shows that the drought which caused the famine was triggered by the number of factory emissions from Western Europe and the United States of America. The release of sulfate aerosols, which cool the climate around them, disrupted rainfall patterns for decades until clean-air laws were passed in the industrialized countries.

It is an uncomfortable reality that the world is interconnected and that the decisions of one country will undoubtedly have ramifications for another. More than ever in today’s connected and globalized world, countries have to work in sincere cooperation, not just for individual benefit, but for the good of the international community.

The developed world, having such power, also carries an immense amount of responsibility in wielding it. To a large extent, it is failing at that responsibility: smartphones continue to fly off the shelves, despite the myriad controversies surrounding them, including Apple’s suicidal factory workers and the conflict minerals necessary for production. Fairtrade products are still pushing to be the norm, and clean energy bills struggle to be passed.

Too often, citizens rely on governments to take the initiative in social progress. As we continue to dive deeper and deeper into climate change and growing levels of inequality, however, the average citizen has to start harnessing their individual power. The old saying goes that a butterfly flapping its wings can cause a hurricane; while this may be an exaggeration, one must ask themselves what the potential impact of human life can be, even the most ordinary one, across the globe.

– Farahnaz Mohammed
Source: Science Daily,The Atlantic
Photo: The Guardian

Oxfam Fair Trade
Coffee is the second most-traded commodity and one of the most consumed drinks around the world. The consumption of coffee is a universal business within its own, for its demand is incredibly high worldwide. Drinking coffee has become almost second nature to many who can afford it. American author and journalist, Sarah Vowell, says that she realized that drinking a mocha, although seemingly trivial, was in fact “to gulp down the entire history of the New World.” She continues on to say that the modern mocha is nothing less than a “bittersweet concoction of imperialism, genocide, invention, and consumerism served with whipped cream on top.”

Taken into consideration how big of a role coffee plays in people’s lives today, one would think that people would know where their coffee was coming from and what kind of conditions it was produced in. However, the truth is to the contrary because many people have no idea what conditions coffee producers undergo. Approximately 25 million farmers depend on coffee production/sales to make their living, and many of them live in poverty. The coffee market is prone to severe fluctuations due to changes in climate which in turn affect the growth patterns of coffee plants. Due to the longevity of the growth of coffee plants, producers cannot react quickly to changes in coffee demand. Thus, this is where smart consumers can help poor people, and in particular, coffee producers.

As smart informed consumers, people can buy certified fair trade coffee which basically means that farmers and coffee producers are paid a fair and stable price regardless of changing conditions. A recent Oxfam Australia survey reports that more than 85% of consumers want more fair trade products in their supermarkets, and 60% believe that their consumer decisions can make a difference in the lives of producers and farmers in less-developed countries. Marcial Valladolid, from CACVRA, which is a small producer organization in Peru, expressed how coffee cultivation used to disappoint him because the money he made was not remotely close to cover the cost of his coffee production. CACVRA uses its fair trade premium to “support and improve organic cultivation and certification.” By joining this cooperative, Marcel is content that he was able to receive some profit, and he is hopeful for a future with more fair trade.

It is no wonder that coffee was once described by Neil Gaiman as “sweet as sin,” taking into account all the producers and farmers horribly affected by our enjoyment of their produce. Majority of coffee producers live in developing countries including Brazil, Colombia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Ethiopia, and Mexico. Luckily, our enjoyment can come as a better price as the conditions can change because certified fair trade products are becoming increasingly available and accessible through independent grocers, major supermarkets, and retail stores. Thus, making the switch to becoming a smart consumer could not be any easier today. Make the switch today and change people’s lives.

– Leen Abdallah

Sources: AU News, Good Reads
Photo: Google, Google

Growth of Sustainable Coffee and Global Poverty Reduction
In both unexpected and unprecedented turn of events, 2012 saw a huge increase in the amount of growth of sustainable coffee imported from developing nations. Sales of the environmentally friendly Rainforest Alliance certified coffee jumped from 3.3 percent global output in 2011 to an astounding 4.5 percent in 2012, and imports of the certified coffee jumped 18 percent in the United States and Canada; effectively shifting the paradigm of business efficacy in regards to the future of sustainably sourced products.

The increase in 2012 sales is thanks in part to the efforts of Rainforest Alliance and Fair-Trade USA, two US-based non-profits that work to both train and certify overseas growers in techniques that encourage sustainable farming practices. These two non-profits have also sought to change public demands for products that promote responsible environmental stewardship abroad. Surprisingly, the growth of sustainable coffee has been bolstered primarily by its sales to US-based fast food companies such as Caribou Coffee Co. and McDonald’s USA, which recently shifted 100 percent of their espresso coffee beans to be sourced from Rainforest Alliance certified coffee growers.

In regards to the huge growth of sustainable coffee, Rainforest Alliance’s press release remarked that “Over 118,000 coffee farms covering almost 800,000 acres (323,500 hectares) are now Rainforest Alliance Certified and meet rigorous standards for best practices and environmental and social sustainability.”

By empowering farmers in developing nations to produce crops using environmentally sustainable methods such as those utilized by Rainforest Alliance certified coffee growers, American consumers can – through their purchasing power – effectively mitigate the systemic global poverty afflicting many South American countries. Furthermore, as the growth of sustainable coffee provides increased economic incentives for many residents of the global south, global poverty levels will continue to contract as certified coffee sales expand.

Brian Turner

Source: Chicago Tribune
Photo: Select Drinks

IKEA Plans to Only Use Sustainable CottonThe retail giant IKEA is working harder to decrease its environmental footprint and to benefit the workers at the far reaches of its supply chain. The company recently announced that by the end of 2015, it will only purchase cotton that complies with standards set by the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI). This change came as a result of the UNDP’s support of the Business Call to Action (BCtA), a campaign that works to help businesses shift towards practices that benefit global development.

BCI, founded by a group of companies including IKEA, works to ensure that cotton grown around the world is grown in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner. Additionally, they prioritize fair trade practices so that the workers who grow the cotton itself are fairly compensated and enjoy a higher quality of life. By reducing the number of pesticides and decreasing the costs of external waste products, the income of cotton farmers can actually increase.

IKEA currently buys more cotton than any other commodity except wood. Today, only 34 percent of that cotton complies with BCI standards. Over the next three years, IKEA seeks to complete its transition to 100 percent BCI-approved cotton, with the goal of guaranteeing sustainable cotton at an affordable price—ideally the same price as any other cotton.

Jake Simon

Source: UNDP
Photo: Greenpeace