It would be hard not to have heard about Fairtrade recently, just as hard to have failed to notice that food prices in the supermarkets are usually falling while, despite rising overheads, the profits of the big three; Tesco’s, Sainsbury’s and Asda are enormous and rising. Obviously, somewhere in the food chain, there is an imbalance. The purchasing powers of the supermarkets are enormous and the competition between them, for a market that is limited in its overall size, is immense. The supermarkets are in a position to dictate to the growers and producers, especially those in the Third World, what they will pay for their goods and this is often at a level that reduces them to poverty and debt. The Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean has warned that that Wal-Mart’s take over of Asda has already had detrimental effects on the islands’ economy.
It was in order to counteract this type of situation that Fairtrade was founded in 1994 by Christian Aid, CAFOD, (The Catholic Agency For Overseas Development) Oxfam, the World Development Movement, the WI (never underestimate the WI!) and Traidcraft Exchange. From the start the concept was successful as in that year Green and Black’s Chocolate rescued growers in the South of Belize from total disaster, when the world Coco prices fell, by purchasing their produce and making from it the first product to bear the Fairtrade label. Green and Black’s still buy coco from the same growers and as Justino Peck, the chairman of the growers association said, “The difference Fairtrade has made for me is that I can make plans.” One of the plans he mentioned is to buy books for his children’s studies.
In Malawi, sugar cane grower and unpaid minister The Rev’d Jameson Mabviko is a member of the local growers committee. They recently received their first Fairtrade order and with the extra income they are planning to supply water to their villages, as the local river is both dirty and crocodile infested. On a personal level Fr. Jameson will now be able to afford the bus ride to the remote villages in order to preside at services on a regular basis.
In the Dominican Republic, 75-year-old farmer Manuel works an eight and a half hour day and is hoping, with the Fairtrade premium, to be able to replace the wooden walls on his house with concrete walls as these will stand up to the hurricanes. Hurricane George all but destroyed his house in 1998.
The Fairtrade Premium can mean that products that carry the Fairtrade Label are, at times, more expensive than the basic products that are on offer, Fairtrade products are however usually of a better quality than those they directly compete with. Consumer pressure should never be underestimated, and those consumers that have purchased Fairtrade products have sent a message to the supermarkets and many now stock Fairtrade items.
Where at all possible we should look for and buy Fairtrade as an expression of our life together and concern for the worlds poor and exploited. The price of our coffee and bananas and biscuits, for example may rise a little, if it does then Jesus comment that, ‘as much as you have done it unto them you have done it unto me’ should encourage us.