This Valentine's Day we plan to “share the love.” Not just with our close friends and family, but with disadvantaged communities across the world. We don’t plan on making opulent donations or holding fiery protests. We’re putting down the petitions and simply picking up a different kind of present - a Fairtrade present, to be precise.
Purchasing Fairtrade products is one very simple and effective way for people to take action against poverty. In Australia, Fairtrade is still an emerging concept with consumer recognition of the Fairtrade label at only 44% in 2011. The good news though is that retail sales of Fairtrade products have steadily been growing since 2010, with a $35m increase within a year indicating that as time passes, more people are starting to catch on to the benefits associated with Fairtrade.
To try and shed some light on this important and growing movement, the Global Poverty Project sat down with two passionate Fairtrade advocates to help explain.
Changing people’s lives, one chocolate at a time
Karen Ngoh, founder of Fairtrade chocolate brand Heart of Chocolate says she was compelled to sell ethically sourced and produced chocolate bars after discovering that in many instances, the forced labor of children played a big role in producing the commercial chocolate that so many of us unwittingly enjoy today. CNN’s documentary ‘Chocolate Child Slaves’ focuses on the chocolate production industry in the Ivory-Coast. In the investigation, children as young as seven have often been trafficked over borders to harvest cocoa, even though some have never even tasted chocolate.
Although Fairtrade is a top priority to Karen, her consumers’ needs are equally important.
“People feel that they’re somehow being asked to do farmers a favor [when purchasing Fairtrade] and that they are compromising the selection, the packaging or the ultimate quality of the product they are receiving,” says Karen.
But Karen’s chocolates have proved that companies can deliver products of an outstanding quality whilst still enhancing and contributing to the lives of the less fortunate. She's the exclusive Australian distributor of Seed and Bean chocolate, which has won five Great Taste Awards by the Guild of Fine Food, two from the Academy of Chocolate, and scored 100% in the UK's Ethical Company Organisation’s 2012 ranking.
Ensuring that farmers are self-sustainable all year round is another key part in being Fairtrade, and the Divine Chocolate range, which uses cocoa from the Kuapa Kokoo Cooperative, Ghana’s largest Cocoa farming union, enables farmers throughout the off-season with a credit union that gives them access to credit and banking services at affordable rates. The women in particular are supported through a soap making initiative that makes use of the waste material from the burnt cocoa plants that can be sold so that they are less dependant on their husbands to provide for their families.
Instant karma comes back to you, and it feels great!
The notion of helping producers to be independent also compelled Ric Webster who alongside his wife Jen Chaput, founded Instant Karma Roses, the first Fairtrade certified rose importer and distributor in Australia. By purchasing Fairtrade, farmers receive premiums that they can invest back into education, health care, transport and other crucial community sectors.
“It’s not just about helping people - its about helping people help themselves,” says Ric.
Instant Karma Roses come from Kenya and whilst Ric sees a lot of value in consumers buying local, he stresses the problem occurs when people mistakenly think they are buying domestic, when they’re actually buying imported flowers.
"It's matter of knowing where [the flowers] come from,” says Ric. “Eighty percent of flowers are raised in Australia, and 20% are from overseas. But we want to give people the option to buy flowers where they always know the source is ethical."
He describes Australians as being ‘worldly’ people who he genuinely believes would make ethical purchasing decisions given the correct information. He urges other Fairtrade retailers to embrace the same optimism about their consumers.
“You have to trust that customers do want to make a difference,” says Ric.
Making a difference
Getting people to understand the impact their purchasing decisions make is an ongoing challenge in promoting Fairtrade. People seem to think that the concept of Fairtrade stops at workers receiving a fair wage, but there’s more to it than that. Workers receive a Fairtrade premium to invest in social, economic and environmental community development projects that promote sustainability in their communities; and farmers have the security of long-term contracts and use environmentally sustainable farming methods. Under the Fairtrade banner, forced and abusive child labour is prohibited and women receive equal pay to men.
“We can’t keep maintaining the status quo to keep going where workers and producers aren’t getting a fair share of what they produce,” says Daniel Mackey, Business Development Manager of Fair Trade Australia and New Zealand.
He hopes that through the partnership with the Global Poverty Project, people will become more aware of the issues surrounding Fairtrade and therefore, consider the whole picture before picking up a product.
“Sharing the love is what Fairtrade is all about. When you buy a Fairtrade product you move beyond just buying a product for yourself - you’re buying a product you know has an impact on other people,” says Daniel. “It moves people away from individual consumption to conscious consumption.”
He hopes that once people start to realise the merit in Fairtrade, ethically produced products will be the norm that will eventually push unethical products off the shelves. Dan ideally hopes that producers get to a level in which they can “develop the kind of voices that can negotiate on the world stage with industries and governments” so that over time they can be fully self-sufficient.
Help us Share the Love!
As the name of our latest campaign suggests, we’re asking people to share the love with the people behind the products we give as gifts. Whether it's roses or chocolates, by choosing to buy Fairtrade gifts for every occasion you can ensure the presents you give to the ones you love give back to those most in need. To find out more about how you can support Fairtrade and take other actions to help end extreme poverty within our generation, go to www.sharethelovefairtrade.com. You can also share and show your support for Faitrade this Valentine’s day by “liking” http://www.facebook.com/imbuyingFairtradethisValentinesDay