Pay more for Fair Trade

Why are Fairtrade bananas almost as cheap as other bananas? I didn’t think about that when I was living in Finland. I just bought them and felt good because I was buying Fairtrade.

Now I know that the farmers here in Ecuador would be grateful if we paid more. Fair Trade guarantees that they can sell their bananas all year, and sets a limit for how low the price can be. It gives the farmers a stability and security they otherwise wouldn’t have. So yes, it’s worth buying fairtrade.

But the farmers here don’t feel they’re getting a fair price right now. It covers the cost of production, not much more. But we don’t want to pay more.

I asked Leena Saarinen, CEO of Suomen lähikauppa, why fairtrade bananas are so cheap.

-The consumers have a certain image of what a banana should cost. The price difference between bananas can’t be too big if you want the consumers to buy the product as usual.

I’m sure that’s correct. There are cheaper and more expensive fairtrade products. Before I came to Ecuador, I bought fairtrade, but not the most expensive products. If it’s fairtrade, I should be helping the producers by buying this tea or flower no matter what the price is, I reasoned. I thought I was a little poor, wanted to save for this trip and still keep my conscience clear.

Poor is such a relative thing. After visiting one of the people who grow my fairtrade bananas, I will never feel poor again. She lives in a shack in the forest without electricity and without a road. Thanks to the income from the fairtrade bananas, she survives, but she can’t afford to build a new house.

There’s always a reason why some fairtrade products are more expensive than others. The cost of production is higher in certain countries, and higher the smaller the producer is. So by buying the more expensive fairtrade products, you’re helping the ones in the hardest position. But we don’t always have that choice.

What if there aren’t more expensive products to choose? Like in the case of the bananas. If all producers would get a price that covers the cost of production and gives them a reasonable income, the fairtrade bananas would be more expensive. But the more expensive the bananas are, the fewer customers will buy them. That’s just the way it is. So what’s better: that fewer farmers get a fairer price or that more farmers get the chance to join Fair Trade?

This is the paradox a growing Fair Trade is facing. If Fair Trade wants to grow, reach more customers and that way help more farmers, it has to happen on the market’s terms. Or else, the whole world trade system has to change and be regulated in a whole new way. Today, that’s pretty unrealistic.

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