I’ve never owned glasses before. For years I knew I needed glasses but I couldn’t afford them. It was becoming harder and harder to do my job because I couldn’t see well. Earlier today I couldn’t clear the weeds properly to prepare the field for the harvest. Now that I have these eyeglasses I’ll be able to continue working. —Maria Filha de Jesus, a coffee farm worker at Fazenda Nossa Senhora de Fatima
Your first pair of glasses, your first time using a washing machine, your first trip to the dentist—these things may seem ordinary to most of us, but for the people who grow and sew many of our favorite products, they mean so much more. For more than 1.2 million farmers and workers currently participating in Fair Trade, these are the moments that change lives, empower communities, and inspire hope for a better tomorrow.
October is Fair Trade Month, which means it’s the perfect time to reflect on the impact Fair Trade has made on farming communities across the globe. In 2011, farmers and farm workers earned nearly $22 million in community development premiums, up over 50 percent from 2010. In addition to better prices and wages, as well as rigorous labor and environmental protections, these premiums enabled projects in areas like healthcare, education, environmental conservation, community infrastructure, and quality and productivity for millions of people in 70 countries across the globe.
In 2012, the momentum continues:
In Ecuador, Fair Trade flower workers chose to invest in washing machines for the community:
I used to spend my Sundays, every single one, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., down in the river washing my family’s clothes by hand. Now I can spend it with my family. We go to church together. I take my children to see their grandparents. We have lunch together. I got my Sundays back! —Elsa Vasquez, worker at AGROCOEX S.A
In Peru and Colombia, coffee cooperatives won small grants to address key challenges in quality and productivity:
We know that quality is a vehicle to increase the income and quality of life of farmers. This support is significant to the long-term development of coffee quality in our community. —Solón Arias, ASOPROKAN’s General Manager
And in Costa Rica, 550 independent, small-scale coffee farmers joined Fair Trade for the first time in history, and used their community development funds to pay for life-changing dental care:
If we all hold hands and work together, the whole community benefits. Fair Trade is a way to continue doing that. We want benefits for all of the community and not only for a few. —Cecilio Jiménez, Fair Trade Committee President and a 75-year-old coffee grower
It’s been a remarkable journey from Fair Trade’s modest beginnings over half a century ago, with a few committed individuals who believed that access to markets could transform the lives of those struggling under the crushing hand of poverty, and who weren’t afraid to challenge the status quo in order to make the world a better, fairer place.
We at Fair Trade USA are proud to work alongside so many who are still championing our common mission of empowering farmers and workers to fight poverty through trade—together we’ve come so far. When Fair Trade USA first opened our doors in 1998 we certified one product: coffee.
Today we work with 750 brands, and certify a wide variety of products that can be found in nearly every aisle of the supermarket. In 2012 alone, we signed up 70 new business partners, launched 120 new Fair Trade Certified products, deepened our commitment to cooperatives, and helped 1,500 farm workers and independent small farmers earn Fair Trade certification for the first time in history. But it’s still not enough. Two billion people are currently living on less than two dollars a day; Fair Trade can and simply must do more.
That’s why Fair Trade USA celebrates the diversity of approaches being taken within the Fair Trade movement to build upon its successes and deliver more impact to more people. It takes many stakeholders—producers, businesses, NGOs and consumers—all working together to empower farmers and workers to fight poverty, improve the lives of their communities and protect the environment in which they farm. Can we count you in?
Photo: Maria Filha de Jesus, Fazenda Nossa Senhora de Fatima, provided by Fair Trade USA.