Fair trade is big business in the UK. The Fairtrade Foundation’s website states that the most recent valuation of the fair trade market was £493 million for 2007. Given that it has been doubling in value every two years, it is likely to be worth a lot more now.
This is testament to the commitment and vision of the organisations, which include Christian Aid and CAFOD, who launched the labelling scheme back in the early 1990s. Fair trade’s success demonstrates the desire of many consumers to purchase products that have been produced in an ethical way. As demand has increased, food companies have increasingly switched to fair trade ingredients. Last month Maltesers became the latest chocolate product to gain Fairtrade certification.
If you look on the Fairtrade Foundation’s website for a definition of Fairtrade and the Fairtrade minimum price you’ll find these descriptions:
‘Fairtrade is about better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world. By requiring companies to pay sustainable prices (which must never fall lower than the market price), Fairtrade addresses the injustices of conventional trade, which traditionally discriminates against the poorest, weakest producers. It enables them to improve their position and have more control over their lives.
‘The Fairtrade minimum price defines the lowest possible price that a buyer of Fairtrade products must pay the producer. The minimum price is set based on a consultative process with Fairtrade producers and traders and guarantees that producers receive a price which covers the cost of sustainable production. When the market price is higher than the Fairtrade minimum price, the market price is payable.’
Bear these in mind when you hear that today farmers from round the UK have descended on Parliament to join a summit meeting about falling milk prices. This protest has been called by the National Farmers Union (NFU) in response to a drop of nearly 4p a litre in the price dairy farmers will get from three processing firms that supply milk to Asda, Morrisons and the Co-op.
NFU vice-president Adam Quinney has said that, “The latest round of cuts to milk prices by three major dairy processors will mean dairy farmers are making a significant loss for every litre of milk they produce.”
Farmers who do not supply Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer or Waitrose, which pay dairy farmers directly – will lose £350 to £400 per cow per year according to Mr Quinney. He warned that this could lead to a mass exodus from the industry. The NFU is calling for farmers to be paid at least the production cost of milk and for more equitable contracts to be introduced that stop dairy farmers being exploited.
This doesn’t exactly sound like fair trade to me. There has quite rightly been a big push over the last two decades to see farmers in poorer countries being paid a living wage for the work that they do. Surely we should expect the same for our own farmers? Both Jesus and Paul talk about workers deserving their wages. Christians and churches have put plenty of energy into turning fair trade into a success. Couldn’t some of these energies be applied to producers in our own country? Exploitation is still expliotation no matter which country it is happening in, whether rich or not.
The Fairtrade Foundation has this to say about UK farmers:
The Fairtrade Foundation recognises that many farmers in the UK face similar issues to farmers elsewhere, not least ensuring that they get a decent return for upholding decent social and environmental standards in their production. We therefore support the promotion of sustainable production for UK farmers. We do recognise that many farmers in the UK face similar issues as farmers elsewhere, not least ensuring that they get a decent return for upholding social and environmental standards in their production. We agree that the principles behind fair trade may provide useful insight into the debate on improving the situation for UK producers.
Agriculture Minister Jim Paice has said that of the 49p which is the average price of a pint, 16p goes to farmers and the price cuts will be, “a massive burden for the vast majority of dairy farmers. The price in the shops isn’t really high enough to compensate for all the costs in the food chain. The reality is that if milk producers do go out of production… then we’ll end up with a price hike… because liquid milk isn’t readily imported and if there’s a shortage it will go up.”
Our national buying habits have revealed that many of us are happy to pay extra for fair trade and organic food along with ethically reared meat. Isn’t it time the producers, supermarkets and government worked together to ensure that farmers are not having to sell food below cost price just for the sake of driving the supermarket price down by a few pence? Surely it makes sense?