THE BLOG

When Is A Bargain Too Good To Be True?

28/02/2017 17:15
lenazap via Getty Images

We all like a bargain, but when is it too good to be true? When the human cost of a 'cheap deal' is exposed, what choice do we make?

This Fairtrade Fortnight, our message to consumers is urgent and simple: Don't Feed Exploitation.

How often do we think about where our food comes from? About who grew it, what their quality of life is like, about whether or not they're getting paid properly for their hard work?

We asked the British public and found that a quarter of us have never even considered the farmers and workers behind our food and drink. Almost 17% have never thought about whether it has been produced in exploitative conditions.

If we don't question the provenance of the goods we consume on a daily basis, how do we know we're not part of the problem? That we're not feeding poverty?

In this new provocative film launched for Fairtrade Fortnight we want to challenge people to think hard about this. But while the film is fictional, the reality is even more shocking.

Tea, coffee and cocoa industries are all extremely profitable, yet how is it that the majority of the farmers producing these commodities are not earning a decent living? 1 in 3 people in Kenya's coffee and tea growing regions live in poverty, and over 2 million children work in hazardous conditions in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire, with the average cocoa farmer in the latter living on less than 40p a day.

Many of the largest coffee producing countries in the world have over 10 percent of their populations living on less than US$1.90 a day - falling short of the World Bank extreme poverty line.

Around 30% of households in Southern Malawi, the main tea growing region, live in poverty and half don't have enough food. The consequences of low income are devastating. Children may have to be sent to work rather than school, families cannot afford basic provisions like healthcare or food, and many have to take on work under poor conditions.

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If you have not experienced or seen extreme poverty with your own eyes, it is a very hard thing to imagine. Is it that we think these problems are beyond our control or just too far away? Out of sight, out of mind. We don't think so. This year, we've seen just how committed the public are to the farmers who struggle to get by. Through buying Fairtrade products, sales are on the rise and as a result, consumers are helping to ensure that 1.6m farmers and workers globally get a fair deal. Over time individual action adds up and this support is transforming communities around the world every day. The success of the Fairtrade movement proves we can all make a difference.

In Malawi, agriculture is the key economic driver but it remains one of the world's poorest countries. In rural areas, infrastructure and essential health and education services are weak. Sukambizi Association Trust is a co-operative with 9,000 small-scale farmer members. Before Fairtrade, people used to have to travel 40km to the nearest hospital and with no alternative transport, many women had to risk their lives by delivering babies at home. Thanks to Fairtrade investment, the community was able to invest in a village maternity clinic and an ambulance. 400 babies are now safely delivered there each year and sick children are able to get the care they need. Additionally, Sukambizi have been able to build a local primary school and fund projects to increase solar power.

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Ongoing development is precarious in this region and a few years ago six members of Sukambizi lost their lives in floods that devastated people's livelihoods. Fairtrade stood by the community and raised money to replant crops that were destroyed, but sadly, drought in subsequent years has parched their land. The effects of climate change, combined with falling sales of tea, are pushing them to their limit. A reality experienced by too many of our farmers.

After years of improvement to their lives through investments from Fairtrade tea sales, it is desperately sad to see people falling back into poverty. As a consequence, the community is selling significantly less tea to the Fairtrade market and they don't get as good a deal from other traders. This means they can't invest in electricity, clean running water or education support for the next generation - all of which we take very much for granted.

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This is the reality for a large majority of our farmers and shows why we need businesses and consumers to stop and consider the wider effect of a 'bargain'. Change is happening, but it's not a quick fix and we must not become complacent. We are operating in a very uncertain world that is pushing us to become increasingly insular as we focus on our domestic concerns and the impact of significant decisions being made in London, Brussels and Washington. However, we must never forget that we are part of a wider world.

Fairtrade Fortnight has always been a time to celebrate, to dress up in banana costumes and hold record-breaking events that ultimately are about thanking the people who work hard so that we can enjoy the chocolate, fruit, sugar, tea and coffee we consume every day. But there is a serious message behind the frivolity and fun. We depend on these people, and they depend on trade with us. They deserve a fair deal for their hard work. We mustn't allow exploitation, child labour or poverty pay to continue. We must demand greater transparency from companies. One way we can do this with the guarantee they get fairer prices for their goods, better working conditions and investment in their communities. That's why we want people to Choose Fairtrade.

Find out more about Fairtrade's 23rd annual campaign, Fairtrade Fortnight and how to get involved.

Credit: All photos taken by Chris Terry for Fairtrade in Malawi 2017

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