Forging direct, stable, democratic trade relations between producers and sellers for 50 years, the fair trade movement cuts out middlemen and creates alternatives to the imbalance of power and limited market-access that have hobbled producers in developing countries. Fair trade today accounts for more than a million small-scale farmers and workers in Asia, Latin America, and Africa.
Many more farmers, however, are still forced to accept low prices from large corporate buyers. The recent coffee crisis, with world market prices too low to cover basic production costs, has affected 25 million coffee producers. The crisis has forced coffee farmers to remove children from school, sell their land, or turn to more profitable drug crops.
In contrast, fair trade is based on solidarity between consumers and producers?—a mutually advantageous collaboration between farmers and their communities, on the one hand, and buyers and consumers, on the other. Fair Trade certification guarantees that products meet these standards: Farmers get a fair price set by a recognized certifying body; buyers are committed to long-term trading relationships; farmers receive up to 60 percent advance payment to avoid debt at the start of a production season; buyers contribute a portion of profit to community development; information about product origins is offered to consumers; and ecologically sound farming is encouraged.
The fair trade movement supports democratic community-building in the South and encourages activism for economic justice in the North. The range of available fair trade products that can be purchased directly from producer cooperatives and businesses worldwide has expanded to include tea, chocolate, fruit, crafts, and clothing. The benefits of fair trade extend to consumers, as socially and environmentally responsible products are added to store shelves.
Lilja Otto is an intern at YES!