Monday, 24 January 2011


Who needs Fairtrade?

Brazil is booming. Its cities are buzzing with people making the most of economic optimism – doing business, spending money and adapting their lifestyles to fit the fast-paced change. Look at countries like India, China and Mexico and you’ll find similarities. So why, you might ask, do these countries need Fairtrade? Brush off the brick dust and you’ll find another side to Brazil. Outside the cities, in rural communities there’s little evidence of the new-found wealth making its way into the hands of those working on the land.

Fairtrade Labelling Organisations International (FLO), the umbrella organisation of Fairtrade, is responsible for defining the global reach of Fairtrade. The geographical scope is broadly based on a list published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)’s Development Assistance Committee. It shows the countries which receive overseas development aid from the member countries of the committee – these include the US, Japan, France, the UK and other EU member states.

Within this broad reach, it’s agricultural and commodity producers whom FLO standards are designed to benefit, specifically those producers who are marginalised by the complex supply chains and imbalances of power in conventional trade. In Mexico for example, coffee farmers live in remote mountainous areas where livelihoods are fragile and there is a lack of government investment in infrastructure. This is despite the expansion of coffee houses we’ve seen in almost every high street in the UK, because in real terms, the price of coffee, and therefore the income coffee farmers have to provide for their families, has fallen by more than two thirds in the last 40 years. And India, although rated by the World Bank as a middle-income country, has a yawning divide between the incomes of the crowds joining the newly prosperous urban middle classes and those scraping together a living in farming communities. It’s still a country where almost 30 percent of the population lives in poverty and in every 1,000 under fives, 66 children will not see their sixth birthdays. Compare this to the UK, where the figure falls to just five.

So that means that when it comes to which countries Fairtrade works to benefit the poorest farmers and workers, the scope of Fairtrade encompasses almost all of Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, Oceania and the poorest countries in Asia. Currently the geographical scope doesn’t include and European countries on the OECD list.

But as we all know, things move fast in the global economy. FLO reviews the list of countries every few years to make sure it still fits the bill when it comes to securing the best deal for disadvantaged farmers and workers.

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