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Have you ever wondered where your favourite chocolate bar or go-to t-shirt comes from? Farming crops such as cocoa for our chocolate, cotton for our clothing and coffee beans for our caffeine addictions, provides the livelihood for millions of hardworking farmers living across the world.
In fact, there are approximately 1.1 billion workers in the agricultural sector worldwide but unfortunately, nearly half are drastically underpaid, exploited, and under serious health threats due to their working conditions.
Buying Fairtrade is a way for you as a consumer to make a big difference in the the lives of the people who grow the things that we depend on, but how does fairtrade actually work and why is it needed?
Rice farmers in Ghana, cotton farmers in west Africa, coffee farmers in Brazil and many others around the world, are kept in poverty as they struggle to provide a living for themselves and pay for education and healthcare for their families. Many millions of these farmers are left at the bottom of the financial pyramid and live off lower than the minimum subsistence level.
Within the cotton sector in India, hired workers receive on average €1.8/day, which is only 41% of the living wage. Family workers receive on average €3.5/day, almost half of the living income 8.
There are many other contributing factors which fuel the fire of poverty. For example cotton farmers are often caught in devastating cycles of financial dependency as they require genetically modified (GMO) seeds, fertilizers and insecticides to yield their quota.
This considerable extra cost piles pressure on these already poorly paid farmers. This has been linked to a high rate of cotton farmer suicide as they are left in inescapable debt traps. In India alone, 270,000 farmers have committed suicide since 1995.
Due to the financial struggles faced daily, many families pull their children from school to work on farms and in factories. According to the International Labour Organizations, 218 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 are in employment. Among them, 152 million are victims of child labour and almost half of them (73 million) work in very hazardous conditions.
Child labour is most prevalent within the farming industry, accounting for 71% of all child labour. A further 17% lies in services and 12% in the industrial sector which includes fabrication and mining. As prices of produce rise and fall, families are stuck in a cycle where they cannot afford to keep their children in education which inevitably contributes to the cycle of poverty.
Farmers and industry workers are often subject to very dangerous working conditions from dealing with hazardous pesticides and fumes to operating unsafe machinery.
In a report published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Health Organization (WHO), it has been estimated that between one - five million cases of pesticide poisoning occur each year, often resulting in death.
The report stated that “Although developing countries use 25% of the world’s production of pesticides, they experience 99% of the deaths due to pesticide poisoning”. This staggering figure relates to the lack of safeguards and often absence of them altogether.
As many of these farmers are under severe pressure to reach a certain crop yield many use hazardous pesticides. This results in dangerous chemicals seeping into delicate ecosystems often eroding soil making it unusable in the future.
Natural habitats are often destroyed in an effort to create more land to keep up with the high demand of produce, a prime example of this would be the expansion of palm oil plantations in Indonesia which is destroying the natural wildlife and threatening the orangutang population.
Gender Equality is a major issue throughout the working sector of the developing world. There is a large disparity of pay between men and women, while harassment and sexual harassment can occur daily without being addressed.
According to the International Trade Centre (ITC), women account for 70% of the cotton planting and 90% of the hand-picking yet the average income for women is only 78% of that of their male counterparts.
The vision of the Fairtrade foundation is to have “a world in which all producers can enjoy secure and sustainable livelihoods, fulfil their potential and decide on their future”.
Everyone deserves to have control over their own future and lead dignified lives. To enable this the Fairtrade Foundation looks to connect consumers and the workers/farmers who grow and maintain the produce we depend on every day, improve trading conditions and empower these workers to take more control in their lives to break the cycle of poverty.
What Fairtrade does…
Start looking at what you’re buying and ask the questions
All fairtrade products will have this symbol- guaranteeing human and environmental rights of the highest standards along the entire supply chain.
By being a conscious consumer and making simple changes to our consumption habits, we can all play a role in enabling producers across the world to lead healthier and happier lives.
We also encourage you to read our blog post on Organic and why you should try to buy products with both certifications!
If you’re unsure of where to start, here’s a list some of our favourite fair trade companies:
We set up White & Green as an entirely Organic and Fairtrade cotton bedding brand and due to huge popularity, we have extended into other products such as towels, throws, scarves and baby clothing. You can shop our products here.