Fair Trade isn’t always so fair for the small producers. The thought is nice, and the best alternative that exists for a fairer trade, but over the years, the system has grown. To be able to grow, it has adapted more and more to the demands of the market.
The small farmers adapt to the Fair Trade quality norms so that we will buy their products, even though we rarely even know that Fair Trade places demands on its farmers.
They adjust to the demands of the market to be able to sell their products to the european supermarkets. They sell their products as cheaply as Fair Trade allows, because the increasing number of other fairtrade producers do the same.
They comply with the supermarkets’ demands for new certifications and minimum amounts so they won’t switch to another fairtrade producer.
But that market – what is it really? When the banana producers here in Ecuador talk about the market, they mean the european supermarkets. But why do the stores make these demands and chase the lowest prices? To minimise their costs and to not lose customers.
But the market isn’t the supermarkets – the market is we who buy fairtrade products. It’s because of us that the Fair Trade exists. Hence, we have the ultimate responsibility.
We can help improve and develop the Fair Trade in at least three ways.
One: Be prepared to pay more for Fair Trade. Show it by buying the most expensive fairtrade products we can find. They’re not expensive because we pay for a brand, like when we’re buying clothes, but because the production costs within Fair Trade are higher in some countries and for smaller producers.
Two: Make demands to the supermarkets in the developed countries. We can ask from whom they buy their fairtrade products, what they pay and what the farmers get. We can demand that they pay a decent price to the importers they buy their fair bananas from. We can demand that they don’t dump their farmers to buy from the cheaper ones. We can demand that they treat the small farmers fairly and don’t ask unreasonable things from them.
The two first suggestions are a bit idealistic. The researcher Sally Smith has a third suggestion, which is a bit more realistic.
To aim higher and ask for changes in the Fair Trade system. We can demand that Fairtrade Labelling Organizations international (FLO) makes demands on the supermarkets. One of the farmers I’ve talked to said: ”FLO should chose who they work with. They should cooperate with more solidary supermarkets”. FLO demands that the producers, the exporters and the importers follow fairtrade standards. But the supermarkets that sell the products don’t have to be certified in order to sell them. They can make demands that don’t fit with the spirit of Fair Trade. So why not let only certified supermarkets sell fairtrade in a fairer way?
There are organizations for making demands like this heard, for example Pro Fair Trade in Finland and its sister associations in other countries.
Sally Smith writes that if nothing changes, the biggest risk within Fair Trade is that the supermarkets influence policy and ethos within the Fair Trade system. And then what’s the point of Fair Trade? Then it doesn’t mean anything more than a lighter conscience for the consumers in the industrialised countries.