17 June, 2020

Addressing the Racism and Inequality Prevalent in Trade Today

by Fairtrade America

Fairtrade has been following the events of the last few weeks with concern and introspection.

As an organization and movement co-owned by farmers themselves, we work to ensure fairer trade conditions and that farmers and workers earn a sustainable wage for the food they grow. We also fight against discrimination or abuse, including child labor and slave labor that still exist and even thrive in many industries. We like to think we’re part of the solution.

However, we must also recognize and acknowledge that the Fairtrade system exists because of historical inequalities and injustices brought about by colonialism. The first Fairtrade organization started in 1988 in the Netherlands, out of solidarity with Mexican coffee farmers. We recognized then – and now - that the typical model of global trade exploits farmers and workers while delivering profits to middlemen and large companies.

Some of Fairtrade’s most popular products are coffee, tea, and cocoa, which have historical microcosms of racism, cruelty and power. In developing our standards and support systems, Fairtrade has taken this history into account and has aimed to transform trading conditions, so that those most wronged by these historical injustices have more control over their futures.

But the fact remains that we all – from companies to consumers - have become far too comfortable with paying poverty wages for products we love, to people and communities that have faced historical – and in many cases ongoing – oppression or marginalization.

As Fairtrade, we know we need to do better. We recognize that our own commitment to diversity can be improved. We must not only advocate for justice, equality, and non-discrimination for farmers and workers in the Global South, but also within our own organizations, commercial partners, governments, and the communities where Fairtrade products are produced and purchased.

  • Fairtrade commits to maintaining at least 50% producer representation in our General Assembly, our governing structure, to guide our decisions around the world not for farmers and workers, but with them.
  • We will challenge ourselves to examine our own policies and ways of working to not only be more diverse and inclusive domestically, but to also include more voices of the farmers and workers we stand beside.
  • We will use our platform to make farmers’ voices heard more, for example by publishing and amplifying their stories and messages and nominating them to speak at conferences and seminars. All too often, these conferences talk about farmers in the Global South, but rarely with them.
  • We will examine our messaging and work to eliminate “white savior” types of language where it exists – so if you spot something, please point it out so we can correct it!

Fairtrade is, indeed, part of the solution, but we are the first to say we are not THE solution. We simply cannot solve the issues of injustice and inequality alone.

None of us can erase the past, but, together, we can work to improve the future. Together, we have the ability to dismantle systemic, global racism. Together, we will continue to lead the way in advocating for the rights and welfare of producers we work with in the Global South. Together, we will continue to push businesses to pay more for their goods at the first step in their supply chains. Together, we will continue to encourage shoppers to make choices that build a better world and not perpetuate current inequalities.

From our office in Washington, DC, we have started with discussions and education within our staff as well as 2x matching donations our team makes to anti-racist causes. We have increased our volunteering hours for staff to work with causes resonating with them during this time or to protest in our nation’s capital.

We are inspired by and challenged by the protests rocking the globe. We are holding up the mirror and taking a long look at our history. We invite you to join with us in shaping a better future for all.

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