Friday, 7 March 2014

Two out of three ain’t bad… but there’s room for improvement

The concept of fairness is hard to define but easy to recognise when it’s missing. Being fair is often spoken of as part of our character. Research from the University of Nottingham published back in 2008 argued it’s down to our national culture rather than our genes.

Maybe that’s the reason why the Fairtrade movement is so strong in Britain. The WI is one of the founder members of the Fairtrade Foundation, which has just celebrated its 20th anniversary with Fairtrade Fortnight, which will end this Sunday. The concept of fairness is a common thread throughout WI campaigns, and the WI remains behind the vision of a world in which fairness and sustainable development are at the heart of trade.

Only two years ago WI members were fighting hard for British dairy farmers. ‘Farmers squeezed as price war erupts’, ‘Price cuts threaten farms’, ‘Famers need fair trade protection’ – these were the headlines as farmers struggled with price cuts from supermarkets that put unsustainable pressure on the already squeezed dairy supply chain. WI members backed our call for a Fair Deal for Farmers and processors and farmers agreed to a voluntary deal in the summer of 2012.

The problems the dairy farmers face here are not unique – they blight other supply chains and products from all over the world. The Fairtrade Foundation has introduced us to Foncho, a banana farmer from Columbia. His life and livelihood, and that of thousands of other farmers just like him, has been changed by Fairtrade. Just like British farmers, the WI is sticking with Foncho because at the heart of the WI movement is the powerful concept of fairness.

Together we’ve achieved a huge amount since the first Fairtrade bananas appeared on our shelves in 2000. Today, one in three bananas in the UK is Fairtrade. While this is certainly something to cheer about there are still serious problems at the heart of the banana business which have a devastating impact on the tens of thousands of farmers and workers that grow the UK’s favourite fruit. A fruit that 13 million Brits eat every single day.

We buy most of our bananas from major supermarkets, and while three major supermarkets have committed to selling only Fairtrade bananas, the highly-competitive and public price war between supermarkets have prevented progress towards making the whole banana industry fair and left the poorest people bearing the cost of the UK’s cheap bananas.

In ten years, the average price UK shoppers pay for a banana has halved, but the production costs have doubled. The cost of living for banana farmers has greatly increased (by 350% in the case of the Dominican Republic). The situation is trapping farmers and workers in poverty and stopping them accessing education or healthcare, despite bananas being one of the most valuable agriculture trade commodities in the world. Doesn’t sound fair, does it? And it doesn’t have to be this way – the Foundation’s research shows this price reduction has not occurred in other EU countries, who buy bananas from similar sources and incur similar costs in shipping and distribution.

The Make Bananas Fair campaign is calling for a better deal for all banana farmers and workers. All producers should receive the true cost of sustainable production and all farmers and workers should receive decent conditions and a living wage.

WIs have shown their support for Foncho during Fairtrade Fortnight. The Brentwood Belles recently become one of the newest Fairtrade WIs. Forestgate WI hosted Barbara Crowther from the Fairtrade Foundation to talk about the role of women in Fairtrade food production. And Catford WI celebrated with a fairtrade chocolate tasting event, teaming up the chocolate with different beers.

How can you help make bananas fair? The Fairtrade Foundation is asking the UK public to sign their petition: Put your name next to Foncho’s to ask the government to investigate the market with a look at retailer pricing. And of course, buy Fairtrade! Send a sign to the supermarkets that we value our food and the people who grow it, and that supermarkets should too. Because at the moment, two out of three ain’t bad. But there’s room for improvement so let’s not stop here.

Further information

The Fairtrade Foundation has produced a scorecard examining the efforts of the UK’s major supermarkets:

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