How are we playing our part in the global Fair Trade movement?

Sunita Jingar works at a textiles production centre in Udaipur, India. Credit: Traidcraft Exchange/Allison Joyce

Sunita Jingar works at a textiles production centre in Udaipur, India. Credit: Traidcraft Exchange/Allison Joyce

After the launch of the International Fair Trade Charter earlier this week, we’ve been reflecting on the role that Traidcraft Exchange plays within the global Fair Trade movement.

It’s fair to say that Traidcraft Exchange’s work covers a lot of ground – we run development projects with farmers, artisans and workers in Africa and South Asia, as well as pushing for trade policy reform and corporate accountability in the UK. But if we look specifically at the eight approaches outlined and endorsed in the Charter, how exactly does our way of working mirror the common philosophy of the global Fair Trade movement?

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1.     Creating the conditions for Fair Trade

“Fair Trade Organizations apply their values in commercial contracts and transactions, putting human relationships rather than profit maximization at the core of their work.”

The kind of trade we want to see is one which benefits every individual in the value chain. That’s why we campaign for trade policy reform and greater corporate responsibility, and why a people-centred approach forms the basis of our project work.

Our project in Casamance, Senegal with Comic Relief is one such example. We’ve worked with farmers and fruit collectors in the region to help them form into groups and connected them to two local business partners. For the first time, the group leaders are engaging in transparent negotiations with their business partners, with encouraging results: they no longer find themselves reliant on exploitative middlemen, their income from the three target fruits of baobab, ditakh and madd has increased by 31%, and their business partners are reporting improved efficiency and assured supply.

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2.     Achieving inclusive economic growth

“Fair Trade aims to strengthen social capital by partnering with inclusive and democratic organizations that are active in supporting education, health and social facilities within their communities.”

We have long understood that the people who live in a community are experts in what that community needs. This is why we work at the grassroots level to mobilise farmers, artisans and producers into community-led associations and cooperatives with democratic governance structures, enabling them to decide how best to manage their activities for the benefit of the community and negotiate more effectively with local governments.

We’ve developed this approach working with smallholder farmers in Bangladesh over the past decade, creating and strengthening farmer-led associations. Now we’re applying our long-standing experience in community mobilisation to other areas, such as the Indian textiles sector, where we’ve successfully linked almost 13,000 textiles artisans in to social security entitlements which they were previously unable to access.

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3.     Providing decent work and helping to improve wages and incomes

“Everyone should be able to live with dignity from the income generated from their work.”

All too often, farmers and artisans in developing countries find themselves with no other option but to work for long hours in unsafe conditions for insufficient pay, a situation we work hard to combat.

In Bangladesh, an often-invisible stage of jute processing involves the removal of fibres from jute plant stalks. This work is primarily done by women from landless households who work long hours in the hot sun, often standing in contaminated water. We’ve been supporting these women to organise themselves into self-help groups and associations to increase their access to basic services such as health, water, housing and sanitation. 100% of project participants in our JEWEL project, funded by Big Lottery Fund, are now benefiting from at least three additional sources of income – an especially important achievement as the short jute season only provides a source of income for four months each year.

We’ve also been working the Indian states of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, where the impacts of heavy chemical use in textile processes are extremely dangerous to workers’ health. As part of our Going Green project funded by the EU’s Switch Asia programme, we’ve been training artisan-led small and medium-sized enterprises on occupational health and safety as well as promoting technologies that will improve their health and working conditions.

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 4.     Empowering women

“Women have the right to receive equal pay and treatment, and have access to the same opportunities, compared to men.”

The majority of the world’s poorest people are women, which shows how central gender equality is to the fight against poverty. Our new strategy outlines ‘Championing women in trade’ as one of our two key focus areas for the next five years, which is why you’ll see this as a common thread across our programme work:

  • We’re working with 2000 smallholder households in Meru county to increase the visibility, voice, choice and control of women in the vegetable value chain;

  • We’re providing training to artisan-led SMEs on improving health and safety practices in the processes of textile manufacturing dominated by women (i.e. washing, drying, bleaching and use of chemicals to fix dyes);

  • Women participants in our ‘Sustainable Farms – Sustainable Futures’ project in Kenya report that gender sensitisation training has given them the confidence to challenge men in their communities over drinking and domestic violence;

  • In Bangladesh, we have mobilised 4,320 highly vulnerable women workers in the jute supply chain into 4 sub-district level associations, enabling them to develop a collective voice to negotiate more effectively with policy-makers.

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5.     Protecting the rights of children and investing in the next generation

“Fair Trade supports organizations that help families earn sufficient income without recourse to child labour.”

One very important result of enabling farmers, artisans, and producers to earn sustainable livelihoods is that their children benefit from improved household stability, better access to basic services, and increased opportunities to access education. Traidcraft Exchange’s work is improving working conditions for parents so that they no longer have to rely on their children as an additional source of labour.

In Bangladesh and India, the practice of bonded labour is widespread in rural areas where the workforce relies on verbal arrangements for wages and is subject to exploitation by unscrupulous landlords. To combat this problem, in early 2019 we will be starting a new project in northern Bangladesh and Madhya Pradesh, India to rescue and rehabilitate men, women and children from work under debt bondage and forced labour conditions in target communities. The project, funded by Big Lottery Fund, will seek to reduce their vulnerability to future bondage through the creation of alternate avenues of income generation, and by creating people’s institutions that work together to prevent exploitation.

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 6.     Nurturing biodiversity and the environment

“Good environmental practice […] is the responsibility of all actors in the chain of production, distribution and consumption.”

 ‘Trade that doesn’t cost the earth’ sits alongside ‘Championing women in trade’ as one of the two focus areas outlined in our new five-year strategy. This approach is an integral element of all our project work:

  • We’re working with textiles artisans in India to help make what has traditionally been a polluting industry become cleaner and more profitable by increasing the production and sales of eco-friendly textiles;

  • We’ve trained farmers in drought-affected regions of Eastern Kenya on sustainable agriculture techniques such as balanced pesticide and fertiliser use, production and application of organic manure and compost, and water harvesting and conservation;

  • Our ‘Sustainable Farms – Sustainable Futures’ project in India is providing training and technical assistance to 4,000 cotton farming families on sustainable agriculture and crop diversification, as well as supporting women’s self-help groups to produce bio-inputs including organic compost and bio-pesticides.

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7.     Influencing public policies

“Seeking changes to the rules and practices of conventional trade is an integral element of Fair Trade.”

Traidcraft Exchange has spent the best part of two decades researching and lobbying on trade and investment agreements – a part of our work which we outline in more detail here.

Earlier this year we were delighted to win the Advocacy Campaign of the Year at the Bond International Development Awards. This award celebrated the success of our Brexit campaign, in which we put pressure on the Government to ensure that developing countries are not disadvantaged as a result of Brexit – in response, the Government introduced legislation to ensure that goods from least-developed countries will continue to enter the UK with reduced or zero import taxes. We are still working to ensure that a proper scrutiny process and legislation is implemented to ensure that sustainable development becomes central to trade policy.

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8.     Involving citizens in building a fair world

“Fair Trade supply chains help connect producers and consumers.”

Our supporter base of committed, conscious consumers put tremendous effort into campaigning for fairer trading systems that give more back to farmers and workers in the developing world.

As part of our Who Picked My Tea? campaign, launched in May this year, more than 10,000 people have already contacted the UK’s six biggest tea brands to put pressure on them to publish their lists of suppliers in full. Less than three months into the campaign, we are very pleased to learn that two of the brands – Yorkshire Tea and Twinings – have already responded by publishing their supplier lists on their websites.

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A global approach to the Fair Trade movement

Traidcraft Exchange’s work on policy, campaigns and programmes gives us a comprehensive overview of how global value chains work, and how they need to be improved for the benefit of people and planet. But in a world where the richest 1% now own as much wealth as the rest of the world, it’s clear that our work must be part of a unified, global approach if we are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

The Fair Trade Charter provides a much-needed set of standards for the international movement – and we’re proud to be one of over 300 organisations worldwide supporting it.

Nancy Demuth is Programme Communications Officer at Traidcraft Exchange.

Click here to read a guest blog by Chief Executive of WFTO Erinch Sahan, introducing the Charter and reflecting on how Fair Trade enterprises can be instrumental in delivering the Sustainable Development Goals.

Nancy Demuth