Tim Aldred: Fairtrade – how to start a revolution in your coffee break

Fairtrade Fortnight is taking place.
Fairtrade Fortnight is taking place.
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WHEN you buy your morning coffee, do you ever stop and think about where that coffee came from, or the people who grew it? Or that banana you grab for an afternoon snack? As you bite into it, do you consider whether the farmer who produced it got a fair deal for his or her labours?

Fairtrade recently commissioned 
some market research which showed
that in Yorkshire and Humber nearly a third (31 per cent cent) of people never think about who produces their food 
and drink.

In our busy lives it’s not easy to stop and consider the lives of people on the other side of the world. But we Brits are taught to believe in fair play and that a person should receive a fair day’s pay for a hard day’s work. Sadly, all over the world, people are being ripped off despite working incredibly hard to produce the products we love.

Think back to your morning coffee. How much did you spend on it? £2? £3? £4? Consider then that one in
three people in Kenya’s coffee and tea growing regions live in poverty or that
the average cocoa farmer in Côte d’Ivoire lives on less than 40p a day. That can’t be fair.

This is exactly why Fairtrade exists. To fight exploitation in our food chains and help farmers and producers around
the world receive a fair deal for the products they grow. Fairtrade is
unique. We work with businesses, consumers and campaigners. Farmers and workers have an equal say in everything we do. Today there are
more than 1.65 million farmers and workers in some 1,226 producer organisations across the Fairtrade system. Our work crosses 74 countries and four continents.

Fairtrade started in the early ‘90s and has grown ever since. In fact public support for Fairtrade in the UK is at an all-time high with new data showing that 93 per cent of people are aware of Fairtrade while 83 per cent of people trust the Fairtrade Mark.

This Fairtrade Fortnight we are inviting people to ‘Come On In’ to Fairtrade and find out more about the lives of producers in developing nations and, the transformative impact Fairtrade is having. Take, for example, Marcial, a member of Coobana, a Fairtrade banana co-operative in Panama. Marcial is one of a number of producers touring the UK this Fairtrade Fortnight speaking to businesses, school and church groups about his life, his community and Fairtrade. This is the first time Marcial has visited the UK and, thanks to the Beast from the East, the first time he’s seen snow!

The story of Marcial’s co-operative starts over a hundred years ago when a large fruit company started exporting bananas from Panama. That one company controlled all banana production, as well as the roads and ports, while they profited from this industry, the workers often lived in poverty.

In 1991 that all changed when 74 workers came together and took their future into their own hands, negotiating a bank loan to buy the plantation and so forming Coobana Co-operative. After a long and difficult journey, Coobana started selling on Fairtrade terms in 2010 and haven’t looked back. They have seen improvements in income, in the quality of housing and sanitation, and the education for their children.

The story of Coobana is inspiring
but it is indicative of the unfairness in global trade which is often rooted in centuries of historic exploitation. There is no quick fix, but Fairtrade helps producers become self-governing and take control of their own destiny. Empowerment is the beating heart of everything we do.

For his part, Marcial is in no doubt about the impact of Fairtrade. “Before joining Fairtrade we didn’t see any benefits, development or profit. The price we used to receive per box wasn’t enough to cover our costs – and for 17 years the price didn’t change. Since starting with Fairtrade it’s made a mega-revolution in our lives,” he says.

A mega-revolution. You can’t ask
for much more than that. Every time
you buy a Fairtrade product you help people like Marcial. So, next time you
buy your morning coffee or grab a
banana on the go, pause for a second and think about where it comes from, the people who grew it and consider choosing Fairtrade to ensure they 
get a fair deal.

Tim Aldred is head of policy at the Faitrade Foundation. Fairtrade Fortnight runs until March 11. More information is available at www.fairtrade.org.uk