Have you ever wondered where your favourite chocolate snack or treasured sweater comes from? Farming crops such as cocoa for our chocolate, cotton for our clothing and coffee beans for our caffeine obsessions, provides the livelihood for millions of hardworking farmers living across the world.
In fact, there are over 1.1 billion workers in the agricultural sector worldwide but unfortunately, nearly half are severely underpaid, exploited, and under serious health threats due to their working conditions.
Buying Fairtrade is a way for you as the shopper to make a big difference in the lives of the people who produce everything that we depend on. But how does Fairtrade actually work and why is it important?
The Effects of Unfair Trade
Rice farmers in Ghana, cotton farmers in west Africa, coffee farmers in Brazil and many others around the world, are trapped in poverty as they struggle to provide a living for themselves and pay for education and healthcare for their loved ones.
Within the cotton sector in India alone, hired workers receive on average 3.2 AUD/day, which is only 41% of the living wage. Family workers are lucky to receive 6.25 AUD/day.
Many factors contribute to the poverty of farmers around the world. One major source of stress for cotton farmers in particular, is the debt they find themselves in when using genetically modified (GMO) seeds which are sold to them through middle men and which then require the further purchase of expensive inputs such as chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
These considerable extra costs pile pressure on these already economically-poor farmers. This has been linked to a high rate of cotton farmer suicide as they are left with insurmountable debt. In India alone, 270,000 farmers have committed suicide since 1995.
Due to such financial struggles, many families pull their children out from school to work on farms and in factories. According to the International Labour Organizations, 218 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 are in employment. Among them, 152 million are victims of child labour and almost half of them (73 million) work in very hazardous conditions.
Child labour is most prevalent within the farming industry, accounting for 71% of all child labour. A further 17% lies in services and 12% in the industrial sector which includes fabrication and mining. As prices of produce rise and fall, families are stuck in a cycle where they cannot afford to keep their children in education which inevitably contributes to the cycle of poverty.
Farmers and industry workers are particularly vulnerable to dangerous working conditions such as unsafe machinery, a lack of protective equipment/clothing and the handling of toxic chemicals.
In a report published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated one - five million cases of pesticide poisoning occur each year, often resulting in death.
The report stated that “Although developing countries use 25% of the world’s production of pesticides, they experience 99% of the deaths due to pesticide poisoning”. This staggering figure relates to the lack of safeguards and often absence of them altogether.
Under pressure to produce more and more, farmers often turn to increased chemical pesticide use (moving away from traditional farming methods such as crop rotation and intercropping). This results in dangerous chemicals seeping into delicate ecosystems, poisoning water systems and decreasing soil fertility over time.
Natural habitats are destroyed to clear land for increased agriculture demand, a prime example of this would be the expansion of palm oil plantations in Indonesia which is destroying natural wildlife and threatening the orangutang population.
Amongst many other areas of gender inequality in the agricultural industries such as harassment and sexual abuse, there is a huge disparity in pay between men and women.
According to the International Trade Centre (ITC), women account for 70% of worldwide cotton planting and 90% of the hand-picking, yet the average income for women is only 78% of that of their male counterparts.
The Benefits of Fair trade
The vision of the Fairtrade Foundation is to have “a world in which all producers can enjoy secure and sustainable livelihoods, fulfil their potential and decide on their future”.
Everyone deserves to have control over their own future and lead dignified lives. To enable this, the Fairtrade Foundation looks to:
- Connect consumers and the workers/farmers who produce everything that we depend in the Western World.
- Improve international trading conditions
- Empower workers in the developing world to take more control over their lives and break the cycle of poverty.
What Fairtrade does…
- Fairtrade sets social, economic and environmental standards for both companies and workers to comply with. They certify products and ingredients ensuring that these standards are met by all involved.
- Fairtrade guarantees safe labour practices and fair wages for workers.
- Child labour is strictly forbidden throughout any point of the supply chain.
- Fairtrade funds community projects that better societies and offer more to those living in them.
- Fairtrade only invests in companies and corporations that respect and treat their workers well.
- Hazardous pesticides are prohibited under FairTrade standards which means that it is safer for the workers planting it and safer for the environment.
- FairTrade strives to empower women. It stands up for women’s rights and supports equal pay and equal treatment.
What you can do to help!
Start looking at what you’re buying and ask the questions
- Where does this come from?
- What am I supporting by buying this?
- Is it fair trade?
All fairtrade products will have this symbol- guaranteeing human and environmental rights of the highest standards along the entire supply chain.
By being a conscious consumer and making simple changes to our consumption habits, we can all play a role in enabling producers across the world to lead healthier and happier lives.
We also encourage you to read our blog post on Organic and why you should try to buy products with both certifications!
What we do!
We set up White & Green as an entirely Organic and Fairtrade cotton bedding brand. We have operations in Europe and Australia, with worldwide shipping too. Shop online and enjoy free delivery over 100 AUD.