Fair trade and collective action for a fairer world

World Fair Trade Day is typically a time to celebrate our collective efforts to bring justice to international trade. This year’s World Fair Trade Day on May 8th is particularly compelling because the injustice in the food system has been compounded by more than a year of injustice in healthcare, threats to democracy, and hate crimes. Collective action is needed to protect the rights of the small-scale farmers who grow our food. In coming together in that struggle, we might also be able to achieve more justice in our own neighbourhoods.

ACOPAGRO cocoa producer members from Alto Huayabamba (Peru) – “Gathering is to
begin; to stay together is to progress; to work together is to succeed”

The power of organized fair trade small-scale farmer co-operatives

A year and a half after the start of the pandemic, and four months since the first vaccines were administered, small-scale farmers in the Global South have almost no access to vaccines. These farmer communities had to organize themselves to secure personal protective equipment at the start of the pandemic. They also organized community training to educate neighbours about slowing the spread of covid-19. Steady markets and minimum prices for their crops provided by fair trade buyers helped in a small way, but it was farmers being organized that made the real difference. In Canada, government agencies took the lead in mandating social distancing requirements, providing resources, and distributing vaccines. In rural Peru and Paraguay, where many of Camino producer partners are located, weak public agencies left farmers to have to do it for themselves.

Injustice and the pandemic have not kept farmers from making progress. Masked up and socially distant, co-op agronomists led workshops on keeping family members safe. Most co-operatives resumed learning sessions on gender equity and organic farming techniques because healthy people and healthy plants help heal the planet. Grower members of Manduvira Cooperative continued on with their scholarship program for children of farmer members. The staff of Co-op Norandino introduced home delivery and online ordering for residents near the main warehouse as a way to expand markets for their growers. Both Norandino and ACOPAGRO co-operatives made significant investments in processing equipment over the past year.

How citizen action and new legislation can support small-scale farmers

The organized grassroots actions of farmers and consumers through fair trade create some space to build a more just world. Using that space to create political and economic change is our challenge. Almost unnoticed in the news of the pandemic was the implementation of an import ban on items mined or manufactured by forced labour. This new Customs Notice clearly notes that “As of July 1, 2020, goods that are mined, manufactured or produced wholly or in part by forced labour are prohibited from entering Canada pursuant to tariff item No. 9897.00.00 of the Customs Tariff.

From two decades of field studies by academics from all over the world, the over two million cases of forced child labour in the cocoa fields of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana are well and widely known, as is the fact that beans from those farms are used in the production of mass-market chocolate products. We have yet to see the Canadian Border Services Agency take any action against the massive global chocolate corporations – Nestlé, Barry Callebaut, Cargill, Hershey, etc. – to comply with the new law. Those corporations do not deny that their products contain beans from farms where there are labour abuses. In fact, in a case currently being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, Nestle’s own lawyers wrote “. . . Nestlé USA knows illicit child labour exists in Côte d’Ivoire, and it could supposedly “end the system” if it just used its market power in some unspecified way”.

You have market power and you can choose to use it in a specified way – to vote with your dollars for the world you want.

This World Fair Trade Day and during the month of May dedicated to fair trade, consider:

  • Give a fair trade gift – it’s a great way to lovingly share the importance of fair trade
  • Plant a tree through PurProject – both co-op partners ACOPAGRO and Oro Verde are involved in advanced reforestation projects
  • Send your MP two chocolate bars – one fair trade and one mass-produced plus a copy of July 1, 2020 Customs Notice and ask why the latter bar is allowed to be imported.
  • Join other advocates – the Action Forum, Fair Trade Calgary, AQCE are just a few of the places to work collectively with other fair trade activists.

Happy World Fair Trade Day!

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