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The issue of fair trade is very complex, guided and derived from cultural history, religion, different hemispherical positions on these ideals and aided by poverty.  Because there isn't one solution, I think there is some apprehension to openly discuss fair trade policies, not to mention the broad scope of the issue.  Modern day fair trade labels stem in part from the revelation of child slave use in cocoa and coffee production on many farms.  This is not to say that other products aren't covered by the fair trade concept, rather that independent fair trade labels have the ability to focus on--and enforce--only so many products.  

Why bring up the issue of fair trade at deviantART?  Artists have long used their skills to promote various issues they believe in.  dA has many members who are interested in diverse subjects and have a track record of joining together for causes, such as ArtistsForCharity, fangedfem's cat calendar… (proceeds went to animal organizations), and the #helpers team… .  There have also been numerous editorials and contests that promote various issues.

When a fellow member of deviantART first suggested that I do a news article on fair trade, my initial response was a resounding “no”.  What I had wanted from dA was a place where I could interact with other members and never discuss anything controversial.  I had largely succeeded until I decided to post a couple of dA stamps supporting fair trade practices.  But the idea of writing a news article wouldn't leave my mind and I found myself remembering the words of my instructor from a class on human rights and child labour taught at the University of Iowa.  Herself a former child labourer under the Khmer Rouge [1] [2], she had said to us at the end of the course that we now had the knowledge, but what were we going to do to get the message out about the issue?  I suppose this is partly my response.

This article is meant to be a crash course into the topic of fair trade.  It is by no means exhaustive.  There are links at the end for readers to delve further into the issue.  

First, let's take a look at a few specific areas of fair trade.

Fair Trade vs. Free Trade
Though similar in name, fair trade and free trade are different issues.  Free trade is an economic theory that wishes to remove all tariffs to provide a free exchange of trade between nations.  It is believed that by doing so will benefit consumers by allowing the lowest priced goods to be sold in a country.  This article is not about free trade and will abstain from any comments on the matter.  The definition is presented simply as a way to show how fair trade differs from free trade.

In contrast, fair trade wishes to provide an opportunity for areas of industry that have workers that are typically exploited.  Industries such as cocoa production often use forced labour.  Fair trade tries to eliminate these harmful practices.  Labeled projects also seek to ensure that workers receive proper safety equipment, women are paid equally and may work without fear of sexual harassment, among other issues.  Effectively, it's akin to unions and other basic regulations in the United States.

Some economists argue that fair trade encourages overproduction, which seems like an odd claim considering that, at least in the case of coffee, overproduction had begun before the fair trade movement took hold on American consumers.  Also, the disparity between the coffee producers and retail prices has greatly increased and coffee producers at the beginning of the 21 st century received the lowest paid price in one hundred years (when prices were adjusted for inflation) [3].  An article from 2003 by Paul Jeffrey of the NCR states that:
[a] decade ago, coffee-producing countries earned $10 billion from coffee that retailed for about $30 billion. Retail sales today exceed $70 billion, but coffee-producing countries receive less than $6 billion. Clearly, the benefits of globalization have been shared unequally. [3]

In any case, it seems difficult to reduce the fair trade argument to an economic one.  It's a rather harsh stance to continue purchasing unnecessary items produced under harmful working conditions, all for the sake of the economy.

Principles of Fair Trade
Fair trade has ten basic principles [5], as stated by the International Fair Trade Association (IFAT).  They are briefly outlined below.  
  • Creating opportunities for economically disadvantaged producers
    • Transparency and accountability
      • Capacity building
        • Promoting Fair Trade
          • Payment of a fair price
            • Gender Equity
              • Working conditions
                • Child Labour
                  • The environment
                    • Trade Relations

Visit the IFAT site for more information on the specifics of each above principle:… .

The Use of Child/Forced Labour in Agricultural Production
Slavery and bonded labour are frequently mentioned when referring to the types or work used in agricultural production.  Typical slavery is the most severe, generally involving an individual who is kidnapped, pressed into work against their will and usually mistreated [6].  Bonded labour, also known as feudalism and serfdom, is just as common.  A person is given in exchange to work off a debt either for themselves or someone else, commonly a parent [6].  A typical example is the Indian child given to a brick maker to pay for an older child's dowry [7].  In the vast majority of cases, the debt agreement is made to be impossible to repay, sometimes forcing a person to pass the debt through the person's descendents [6].

The use of forced and child labour in agriculture has been well documented by various sources, especially in cocoa [8] and banana [9] production.  By international agreements signed by all of the nations that have such conditions, use of slaves is prohibited and needs to be removed from the society.  Oddly, some plantation owners stated that they were not aware that trafficking in children to work in cocoa fields was illegal [10].

Here are a few statistics on child workers:
  • "284,000 children are estimated to be employed [on cocoa farms] in child labour in Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria...the majority of them (200,000) in Cote d'Ivoire.   These are either involved in hazardous work, unprotected or unfree, or have been trafficked. [8]"
    • "64% of children on cocoa farms were under the age of 14 and 40% of child labourers in cocoa farming were girls. [8]"
      • "In [Kenyan] plantations about 50-60 percent of the workers during coffee pickings peak season were children. [11]"
        • "Forty-one of [the 45 children interviewed] began in the banana sector [in Ecuadorian plantations] between the ages of eight and thirteen, most starting at ages ten or eleven. [9]"
          • On the Ecuadorian banana plantations, "[t]he children reported being exposed to pesticides, using sharp tools, hauling heavy loads of bananas from the fields to the packing plants, lacking potable water and restroom facilities, and experiencing sexual harassment. [9]"

Fair Trade in Practice
While outright bans and boycotts over slave/child labour produced goods are often discouraged (i.e. the Harkin Bill fiasco [12]), many consumers still find it difficult to purchase products--especially luxury items that aren't necessary for survival--that are highly likely to be sourced from slave/child workers.  And fair trade goes beyond child labour and slavery.  Even in situations where the products are not produced by either forced labour or children, many consumers still want those workers to be paid fairly for their work.

Fair trade can be a good compromise.  Unlike international loans or other aid that could be viewed as a "handout", buying fair trade does neither.  In fact, these crops/products are a good way to help these farmers/producers.  Products such as cocoa and coffee, as a basic example, are a very effective at providing sources of income, especially since the farmers are already selling their products.  Ensuring that the farmers are paid fairly for work they are already doing helps to prevent the inherent exploitation in the industry.   
Further, bananas--or any other tropical fruit--themselves are hardly necessary for our (developed nations) survival.  I make the assertion that tropical produce and goods are by default luxury items on the basic principle that they are imported from other nations.  Tariffs and other taxes aside, foreign products should always cost more because they have to be shipped great distances to their intended destination.  It's similar to how it is exorbitantly more expensive to live in Hawaii or Alaska as compared to the continental United States.

Is fair trade the solution to the industries typically plagued by slavery and child labour?  Of course not.  Fair trade in itself won't "fix" anything and has been the source of overwhelming controversy [13].  There isn't one way to change the problems that create a need for fair trade practices in the first place.  The issue is far too complicated.  Fair trade is simply a start and, more importantly, increases awareness about the situation.  

What about enforcement? one might ask.  Fair trade has had its share of problems with just this issue.  However, some organizations are dedicated to ensuring that their products meet labeling standards [14] [15] [16].  Is there a way to be 100% sure that these labeled products are truly fair trade?  Not really.  On the other hand, there's never a way to be completely sure anything is what is stated.  For example, the USDA doesn’t have the ability to recall tainted food [17] [18] [19] , yet this doesn’t appear to actively discourage American consumers from purchasing government inspected food.  There is no perfect system in place so we use what we have, no matter how imperfect or flawed it may be.

One thing to keep in mind is that fair trade official certification is merely one aspect of the fair trade process.  Due to the requirements of the FairTrade, many farms do not qualify for a fair trade certification [13].  Like the problems of organic certification, some agriculture producers still produce crops in accordance with the fair trade spirit yet lack the label.  

The growth of the fair trade industry is staggering and an encouraging sign for the future [20] [13] [21].  Regardless of how anyone feels on the fair trade/free trade debate, I believe that most of us do not want to buy products that have been unethically produced.  Buying fair trade and locally grown foods can help.  At the very least, the debate over fair trade creates awareness for mistreated workers in all areas of food production all over the globe, including our own nations.

Fair Trade Stamps
The fair trade stamps below were the catalyst for this article.


Further Reading
BBC New: Mali's Children in Chocolate Slavery
BBC News: The Bitter Taste of Slavery
Human Rights Watch: Tainted Harvest--Child Labor and Obstacles to Organizing on Ecuador's Banana Plantations
NCR: Depressed Coffee Prices Yield Suffering in Poor Countries
NCR: <a href=”…>Good to the Last Drop--Reconciliation in a Cup
Reason Magazine: Absolution in Your Cup: The real meaning of Fair Trade coffee
World Vision Australia: Slave to Coffee & Chocolate

Anti-Slavery International
Child Labour Public Education Project
Coffee Kids
FLO International
Free the Children
Global March Against Child Labour
Human Rights Watch
International Cocoa Initiative
International Fair Trade Association
Intenational Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC)
Save the Children

Related Books
Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy by Kevin Bales…
Free the Children: A Young Man Fights Against Child Labor and Proves that Children Can Change the World  by Craig Kielburger…

[1]Shuppy, A. (2003, March 11). 'This project is more than just an academic exercise for me': Getting personal about child labor. The Daily Iowan, Metro section.  Retrieved April 26, 2007, from…
[2]Yang, K. (2006, February 10). Rosenfield symposium addresses genocide. Scarlett & Black, 122(15) .  Retrieved April 26, 2007, from…
[3]Jeffrey, P. (2003, February 7). Depressed coffee prices yield suffering in poor countries. NCR Online. Retrieved April 25, 2007, from…
[5]IFAT. (2007). The 10 Standards of Fair Trade. International Fair Trade Association.  Retrieved April 25, 2007, from…
[6]What is modern slavery? (Unknown). Anti-Slavery International. Retrieved on April 25, 2007, from…
[7]Kielburger, C., & Major, K. (Ed.). (1999). Free the Children: A Young Man Fights Against Child Labor and Proves that Children Can Change the World. New York: Harper Perennial.
[8]IPEC. (2005). Combating child labour in cocoa growing. Geneva: Internation Labour Office. Retrieved April 25, 2007, from…
[9]Human Rights Watch. (2002). Tainted harvest: Child labor and obstacles to organizing on Ecuador's banana plantations. New York: Author. Retrieved April 25, 2007, from…
[10]Action on Cocoa. (2005). Anti-Slavery International. Retrieved April 25, 2007, from…
[11]Jonson, L. (2006). Coffee without a perk. iHS Clild Slave Labour News. Retrieved April 26, 2007, from…
[12]U.S. Department of Labor. (Unknown). Bangladesh.  ILAB.  Retrieved April 26, 2007, from…
[13]Howley, K. (2006, March). Absolution in your cup: The real meaning of fair trade coffee.  Reason Magazine. Retrieved April 25, 2007, from…
[14]IFAT. (2006). Monitoring: Building trust in fair trade. International Fair Trade Association. Retrieved April 25, 2007, from…
[15]FLO-CERT. (2007, March 26). Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved April 25, 2007, from…
[16]Watson, T. (2006, May 14). How to know if a product meets fair trade guidelines. The Seattle Times, Living section.  Retrieved April 25, 2007, from archives.seattletimes.nwsource…
[17] Roos, R. (2004, October 21). GAO says USDA, FDA should improve food recalls. CIDRAP.  Retrieved April 25, 2007, from…
[18] ENS. (2004, October 21). Flawed U.S. food recalls leave unsafe food on shelves. Environment News Service. Retrieved April 25, 2007, from….
[19]Odabashian, E. (2004, February 24). The impact of  mad cow disease in California. Retrieved April 25, 2007, from….
[20]Fair trade: Fair trade today. (2007, April 23). Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved April 25, 2007, from…
[21]Global Fairtrade sales taking off. (2006, June 28). BBC News.  Retrieved April 25, 2007, from…
crimsonpenguin Featured By Owner Dec 17, 2008
I don't know how only 7 people "loved" this... Great article! I did already know a lot about the issue, but I ended up sending some of the statistics to people - it always helps to get things in peoples minds (again, in my case).
PureSadisim Featured By Owner Jan 30, 2008
I salute you for writing this article..

Change wont come until people
contribute in spreading awareness among their society thus pressuring those in power to change their policies.
education is the key..
Aeires Featured By Owner May 4, 2007
Unfortunately fair trade will be stamped out as long as greedy CEO's tighten their grip on the world via the use of powerful organizations such as the Group of 7 and the Bildgerburg meetings. NAFTA is living proof, if it did what they said it was designed to do, people wouldn't be trying so hard to emigrate. Good article.
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