PICTURE the scene. The sun is high, the earth a deep rusty red and under the canopy of large trees a group of women are busy, bent over piles of cocoa pods, breaking the tough shells, scooping out sticky pulp by hand and drying the beans in the hot sun.
It was a decade ago when I visited cocoa farms in Côte d’Ivoire with Fairtrade and leading staff of Nestlé, but work involved in cocoa farming is still this labour-intensive. So I was shocked then when I realised that smallholders were suffering from unfair prices and I’m shocked now that the majority still live on approximately 74p a day.
Soon after our visit, York-made KitKats became Fairtrade and many other companies followed suit. With increased Fairtrade sales, cocoa communities were able to install clean water so people are healthier, build schools and give more women opportunities to progress.
This is not a charity intervention – this is what people have chosen to invest their hard-earned money in. For those who are able to sell their cocoa under Fairtrade terms, farmers have a safety net receiving the Fairtrade minimum price and extra money on top of sales, a premium to invest in whatever they need most.
Côte d’Ivoire’s culture is intrinsically linked to cocoa and they are proud of this heritage – they have built schools and other community facilities thanks to cocoa. It is all the more unpalatable, therefore, that the industry hasn’t been able to deliver more for Ivorians. In fact, there are still many men and women across West Africa who farm cocoa are not getting even half of what they need to live a decent life.
The statistics tell a grim story; 57 per cent of Côte d’Ivoire’s rural population live in extreme poverty, women cocoa farmers carry out over two-thirds of the work, yet often earn just 21 per cent of the income. The collapse of the market price for cocoa in 2016 was a massive challenge. It provoked a crisis for farmers, which persists for many. Today, so many families continue to live a hand to mouth existence, communities live in fragile dwellings and are often unable to cover medical costs if they fall sick.
This is why I am supporting Fairtrade’s new campaign ‘She Deserves’ calling for living incomes for cocoa farmers, particularly women, who bear the brunt of the work and see little reward. According to new research, approximately £1.86 a day is what a typical cocoa farmer in Côte d’Ivoire needs to cover the essential, every day costs of life, for mums to put food on the table, to send their children to school and perhaps to invest in their own enterprise.
Today people up and down the country will be celebrating Fairtrade Fortnight. For the past 25 years, Fairtrade has achieved a great deal and I remain optimistic for ordinary people up and down the country engaging in this issue is what leads to change.
When I spoke at the declaration of Yorkshire as the UK’s first Fairtrade region in 2013, I was impressed by how far this grassroots movement had come – 8,000 faith groups, 650 towns and 1,120 schools up and down the country have Fairtrade status and there is even an All Party Parliamentary Group for Fairtrade, set up by Yorkshire Labour and Conservative MPs.
In 2017, international sales of Fairtrade goods rose by eight per cent to nearly €8.5bn generating estimated premiums of €178m for farmer and worker organisations around the world to invest in their businesses and communities.
Ethical consumption is not only on trend, it is on the news agenda too. In the last year, the tireless efforts of campaigners and Parliamentary scrutiny have revealed just how out of touch fast fashion has become – unacceptable environmental and social repercussions of their actions has been called out. We’ve all woken up to the dangerous effects of fashion and plastics but what about cotton farmers, banana workers, gold miners? Maybe we don’t always realise that virtually everything we buy has a social cost, and that we bear some responsibility to ensure goods are not exploiting people.
On the other hand, I do believe consumers care more than ever about where produce comes from. Support for Fairtrade is stronger than ever, 84 per cent trust it, and a quarter of people actively choose Fairtrade when they shop. In their 25th year, this movement is more relevant than ever. So now is the time to step up the pace of change and the solution – living wages and living incomes for all working people – must be considered a human right. Not just in West Africa, but wherever people are not getting what they deserve for their work.
I wholeheartedly commend the Fairtrade Foundation’s new Living Incomes campaign – may it spur us all on to improve the lives of farmers and workers by paying them fairer prices and helping them build a better, fairer future.
Dr John Sentamu is the Archbishop of York.