“Perhaps the current changes are seen as positive by consumers and the Fair Trade world, but they will exclude once and for all small farmers if we do not make the right decisions; if this happens, once again we will stop local community development and negatively impact good environmental practices: the market will win but the world will lose a unique system able to create change working with small organized farmers.”
The following letter was sent to the North American Fair Trade Council by Marike de Pena, Vice President of the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Small Producer Organizations (CLAC). Marike, who is also the Director of BANELINO, a small banana farmer co-op in the Dominican Republic, wrote the Council to express her views about Fair Trade USA’s controversial new certification scheme which allows plantations to become Fair Trade certified under their new initiative, Fair Trade For All.
June 10, 2012
This is a time of many changes in Fair Trade that affect the survival and future of small farmers.
Large scale private owned plantations are harmful to small producer organizations (SPO) in many ways, as they generate unfair competition.
- First, by affecting sustainable prices (they have lower costs, more access to information, finance, technology, logistics, etc.). As an example we can mention bananas, the minimum Fair Trade price which was settled on is NOT sustainable for small farmers and their organizations because it was a compromise between what a plantation needs, a SPO needs, and the market; the outcome favors markets and plantations.
- Unfair competition is also the outcome of a lack of commitment in the industry: it is a lot easier, cheaper, faster and safer to buy from the big estates. Then, you have unfair competition in raising standards: when you have plantations in a crop, just to make it look more ethical, Fair Trade raises the labor standards and the consumer and media assume that these standards apply also to SPOs since we all use labor in agriculture.In bananas, they check us more on labor, threatening small farmers as well as wealthy employers, without caring any more about their miserable and difficult lives, affected by low prices, lower volumes (because of low prices they can invest less in production and productivity falls), high costs and climate change damages. Labor standards, environmental standards, and high conditions on food safety and infrastructure, all as a result of and to justify the existence of plantations in the system, are pushing small farmers out of Fair Trade.
- The last tendency will be the Unions fighting for workers, as they are considered to be the poorest of the poorest; nobody cares anymore about small farmers, whose incomes are far below workers’ income, with no protection through any laws, no social security, no pension funds, no protection against climate change and no guarantee of markets. Plantations in Fair Trade did not enter to solve poor working conditions, rather, they entered to serve the market faster and cheaper. They create unfair competition in Fair Trade, and will change the direction of Fair Trade to a charity movement and not a movement that supports farmers through empowerment and progress thanks to stable markets and sustainable prices; a movement that enables farmers to create progress through their own efforts and work.
As the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Small Producers (CLAC), it is our mission and responsibility to represent the small farmer; sometimes the system even questions our commitment and considers us to not be inclusive. Perhaps the current changes are seen as positive by consumers and the Fair Trade world, but they will exclude once and for all small farmers if we do not make the right decisions; if this happens, once again we will stop local community development and negatively impact good environmental practices: the market will win but the world will lose a unique system able to create change working with small organized farmers.
Marike de Pena, Vice-President CLAC