Grassroots volunteering in West Africa

Are you MaD?: Fair Trade

Fair Trade is another buzz cause bandied about fairly loosely these days, and with a bamboozling volume of information surrounding it. Knowing where to shop or who is genuine can be a challenge. Firstly, we link you to a simple explanation of fair trade labeling should you be interested in understanding this.

The mission of the fair trade movement is to pay producers in developing countries fairly for their products or services, establish equitable trading partnerships, and ensure health and safety, to name a few of the main aims which you can read in full at the World Fair Trade Organisation’s website. Related to education, many developing country producers may be easily taken advantage of in the international commodities markets or exporting to buyers in developed countries because they are not familiar with best practices or even their rights. The fair trade movement helps producers understand their rights and connects them with like-minded buyers and institutions that enable them to sell in a safe environment and access markets that may otherwise be off limits. Another mission of the movement is to lobby institutions to be more fair in their interaction with developing country producers and to lobby decision makers in powerful nations (like the UK) to develop fairer trade agreements or practices with developing nations—eg, not forcing them to open their markets to UK products while not equally providing access to their own markets.

Organisations like Traidcraft in the UK operate a London-based policy office which actively lobbies at high levels to improve trading conditions for developing nations. You may have noticed many a large retailer selling more fair trade labeled products in recent years. Traditionally, large retailers have had the power in the trading relationship. They dictated the terms of purchase which usually followed something like: inflexible lead time, supplier forced to pay a penalty for every day late in delivery (even if it is not the supplier’s fault)—suppliers are basically forced to reimburse retailers for their forecast losses, shipment can be rejected for reasons beyond supplier’s control. In short, the supplier takes all the risk. If you’re in a developing nation you have very little to bargain with and one failed shipment could mean the end of business. Fair trade helps level this playing field. Here’s what you can do to get involved.

Traidcraft. Truly one of the best run fair trade organisations in Europe. They have a London office and the head office in Newcastle where they operate their trading arm and their international development office. There are so many ways you can get involved or support their efforts. You can buy fair trade products. You can start your own seller group. You can get involved in community events like marathons and marches—they show all events on their site—and you can introduce a programme into your school. Their site gives you many of the tools and background information to do this yourself. Alternatively, you can make a donation to one of their international development projects. These go directly towards supporting their work in various countries. I worked in a consulting role for TC in Cambodia, Vietnam and the Philippines and I can honestly say they are great at what they do. You can have a look at their fair trade company and their development work. They even operate fair trade holidays where you can spend time meeting and learning about producers in countries like India, Bangladesh, Kenya, and so on. Traidcraft gathering photo courtesy of Neil T at

Global Mamas here in Ghana. This is another personal recommendation and I also worked for them here in Ghana for about 20 months, as well as volunteering with them for 7 months. They work with Ghanaian craft producers to develop products that they export to fair trade markets around the world. You can see more about their story at Global Mamas online. There are various ways to get involved: buy their products from a store in the USA, Europe, UK or Australia (email them for details), or online, or come to Ghana and volunteer through their volunteer sister organisation, Women in Progress. When you work with the women producers on the ground and see their lives improve over years of being involved in this organisation you know that fair trading relationships really can lift families out of poverty. You can read the women’s stories online.

Choolips. This is a fledgling fashion-oriented NGO in London. Again, this is a personal recommendation as the founder, Annegret, worked with Global Mamas through a formal relationship in years past. That evolved into working independently with producers in Ghana, of her own initiative, and selling fairly produced fashion to Top Shop in London. She’s passionate about fair trade, she rolls up her sleeves side-by-side with the batikers or seamstresses in the Ghana heat, and she runs around like a mad woman bringing it all together. You can read more about her products and find out where to buy them at Choolips.

Divine Chocolate. This also has a Ghana connection although I haven’t worked for Divine. Divine buys their cocoa from Kuapa Cocoa, a fair trade cooperative in Ghana, under fair trade arrangements that ensure the producers are paid a fair price irrespective of international cocoa price fluctuations. Some may argue that this is artificial, but one need only recall the interventions developed countries give their own producers: subsidies, tariffs on imports and bailing out bankrupt multi-billion dollar banks and motor car producers when economies crash.

Oxfam Chocolate

Another reality in the cocoa industry is that children are still used as free labour in Ghana (the second largest cocoa producer) and its neighbour, the Ivory Coast (the largest cocoa producer). The industry is rife with children that have been trafficked from other parts of these countries or West Africa; the same goes for cocoa production in other parts of the world. Godwin, one of this site’s owners, himself, laboured for a cocoa producer in Ghana’s western region in an attempt to support himself between junior and senior high school. He was given room and board and finally paid 350,000 old Cedis for six months’ work in 1998: equivalent of about US $27. With inflation the value would be about 120 New Ghana Cedis today, 2010, which is about US$90. That’s roughly $15 a month or 50 cents a day. His job mainly involved slashing jungle to open up new planting areas, harvesting the cocoa with machetes, carrying sacks of cocoa beans between sheds, conveying the cocoa to middle men at the market, accounting for sales, and much more.

Even today, much younger and more vulnerable children than he labour in the cocoa industry; the children are paid little or nothing and kept under prison-like conditions. The only reason this works is because there is a huge market for chocolate. However, if we stop buying non fair-trade chocolate, the producer can’t profit and children won’t be trafficked into this industry. Harsh, but true. To help reduce child trafficking and support those cocoa producers who adhere to fair trade practices, and help cocoa-producing communities develop, buy fairly traded chocoloate products instead. While they’re generally more expensive, they taste better, you can cut down on your chocolate intake and do a good deed too. Go check out Divine’s site to learn more about their fair trade partnership in Ghana. Check out the informative site: Stop Chocolate Slavery. Warning: Your next cheap candy bar may leave you with a bitter taste.

This fantastic site EcoMonkey also deserves a plug here. Excellent start for more fair trade and environmental issues.

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