Fair trade is important. With so much of the world’s population making a living off of farming, unfair wages, as well as a lack of labor, economic, social, civil, and political rights keep so much of the world in poverty, despite the fact they are literally feeding all of us. Fair trade ensures that farmers get paid fairly and offers wage stability. It also provides workers with a Fair Trade Premium, which is a bonus they can use to invest in themselves and their community. Finally, it gives them the skills to stay “organized, inclusive, democratic and accountable.”
There are quite a lot of foods out there that have fair trade issues and that you should try to only buy if they are Fair Trade Certified. Here are a few products to look out for during your next grocery shop.
This is a big one. Coffee farmers are some of the worst treated farmers in the world. The plant is usually grown in Central America, Latina America, Africa, and Asia, and the process is incredibly labor-intensive. There are also a lot of price pressures, and when companies refuse to buy coffee for a higher price, the farmers – the people making the least amount of money for the most amount of work – pay the price for it.
The lack of price security has developed a human rights issue linked to the coffee industry. But fair trade helps all of this. It protects the farmers and gives them the money and respect they deserve. Fair trade is incredibly important for coffee, and some would argue it’s the most important product to purchase Fair Trade Certified. Check out this Organic, Fair Trade Certified Tiny Footprint Coffee.
All of the issues associated with cocoa production are linked to poverty. In 2020, there were about two million child laborers working in hazardous conditions in the Ivory Coast and in Ghana. All workers, regardless of their age, are given empty promises about being paid and threatened if they don’t cooperate. Cocoa farming is also responsible for a lot of deforestation, which ultimately leads to a lack of biodiversity and has devastating effects on wildlife.
Fair trade certifications help get higher prices and premiums back to the farmers and support farmer organizations. By giving these cocoa farmers a bit of financial independence, fair trade protects them from some of the abuse and mistreatment they’ve been previously exposed to. Check out this Organic, Fair Trade Certified Theo Chocolate Sea Salt Organic Dark Chocolate Bar.
Banana farmers are badly paid and their jobs are often very unstable. Any attempts to join a union or stand up for themselves are met with harassment and silencing. But the treatment banana farms have to deal with is so much more than emotional. Potent pesticides are sprayed on farmers while they are still in the fields, without any protection. Production costs for bananas are rising, but throughout all of this, the product costs stay the same.
Fair trade makes sure that farmers get paid fairly. Farmer organizations and plantations have to adhere to the social, economic, and environmental standards put in place, which keeps them well protected from the physical and mental abuse associated with banana growing. Banana farming is hard, laboring work, so they deserve nothing less than being paid and respected. Check out these Organic, Fair Trade Sol Simple Solar Dried Banana Snack!
The issues with tea farming stem from the colonial era. Most workers live near the land they work on and are subject to poor working and living conditions. When tea farmers own their own land, it is often very small and nearby tea estates are their only connection to the market, which means they can do very little to improve their income. And don’t let the term ‘minimum wage’ fool you, because often, what is legally the minimum wage is not even close to the living wage needed for people to live healthily.
Along with helping provide farmers with a Fairtrade Minimum Price for wage stability, Fair Trade is also actively working on figuring out what tea workers need to be paid to “lead dignified lives”. Check out this Organic, Fair Trade Frontier Co-op Irish Breakfast Tea.
Sugar workers are treated horribly and wage theft is a common occurrence in the industry. A lot of child labor and subsequent death is also happening. These children can become depressed, introverted, and in need of psychological care from being treated like adults working labor-intensive jobs. Chronic kidney disease is very popular for sugar workers in Nicaragua due to the hazardous working environments. When an adult dies, their child is forced to take their parents’ place in the field or factory to contribute to their family income.
Fair trade helps protect these children and lets them develop as they should – as children. When the adults are paid fairly, the children are not forced to go to work with them to make up for the wages they should be (but aren’t) given. Check out this Organic, Fair Trade Big Tree Farms Brown Coconut Sugar.
Pineapples require a lot of pesticides to thrive. These harsh chemicals end up in the drinking water of the farmers and workers. It’s no surprise then, that workers end up getting very sick because of how many pesticides and chemicals they are exposed to every day. Farmers also suffer wage cuts and end up getting fired if they join a union to protect themselves.
Fair trade provides education and other social, economic, and environmental benefits to protect farmers and workers. Dole and Fair Trade USA have come together and opened two community centers in Costa Rica to give farmers and other community members the life they deserve. Check out this Organic, Fair Trade Sol Simple Solar Dried Pineapple Snack.
There are lots of ethical issues surrounding cashews. The cashew fruit is corrosive and damages the eyes and hands of the workers (main women) who have to remove the nut from the flesh. In Vietnam, “over 40,000 drug addicts… are forced to shell cashews as a form of “labor therapy.” The nut just generally does not have a good track record.
Fair trade regulations require workers to coat their hands in vegetable oil while dealing with toxic cashew flesh. While we appreciate that this is a good first step, we do wish the regulations went as far as to require gloves and eye protection to fully ensure no worker gets permanently scarred or burned. Check out this Organic, Fair Trade Beyond Raw Cashews.
Coconuts are often grown by very small, geographically isolated farmers, which, unfortunately, means it is easy for them to be taken advantage of. Farmers may not know how to invest in their business and community beneficially, or even know how to stand up for themselves and the income they deserve.
Fair trade provides organization and helps these coconut farmers use their fair trade premium wisely. It also provides paid maternity leave and works towards irradicating gender discrimination. As is the case with any farming, sustainable agricultural methods and preserving biodiversity are essential for the long-term health of the land and people. Becoming a fair trade farm gives these farmers the help they need to protect and nourish their soil and plants. Check out this Organic, Fair Trade Coco Road Virgin Coconut Oil.
The issues agricultural workers in Thailand face – including those who grow rice – are devastating. Agricultural workers make 40% less than the national average in Thailand, and the “average agricultural household debt is $669 more than the average agricultural income”.
Fair trade aims to get Thai worker wages relatively consistent with those working in the US. All farmers deserve to be paid correctly and consistently, and rice farming is particularly difficult and time-consuming work. Check out this Organic, Fair Trade Lotus Foods Gourmet Tricolor Blend Rice.
The quinoa boom of 2013 put a lot of pressure on Bolivian quinoa farmers. Quinoa used to be a globally unpopular but very important Bolivian and Peruvian staple. At first glance, the price of quinoa rising seems like a positive, but it encouraged farmers to sell the more nutritional and higher quality quinoa overseas, which means the locals ate the less nutritious leftovers. Farmers began to monocrop which put quinoa’s genetic diversity on the line. It changed the landscape and soil on these previously small traditional farms almost overnight. How are they meant to increase production but still maintain the biodiversity, traditional farming methods, and knowledge, as well as take care of their household while also making a profit?
Fair trade ensures workers are paid properly and helps them use their premium correctly. But we have to ask, is being paid the only issue? It’s definitely not. But buying fair trade does help these farmers financially and protect them from being economically taken advantage of. Check out this Organic, Fair Trade Alter Eco Pearl Heirloom Quinoa.
Keep an Eye Out On Your Next Grocery Trip
Next time you’re making your shopping list, think about who’s growing your food, and if you can buy your produce/grains/chocolate ethically. Luckily, more grocery stores have a decent selection of Fair Trade Certified options, so take the extra ten seconds to find the certification seal. It’s a small difference for us that makes a world of difference for the hard-working farmers all over the world.
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