Fairtrade products are increasingly popular with shoppers, so Dateline traces the producers to ask if they're getting a fair deal.
Tuesday, April 10, 2012 - 21:30

Fairtrade is a buzzword of the western world; shoppers snap up products they see as giving farmers in the developing world a fair go, but how ethical are they really?

Dateline traces back the coffee and flowers on sale in Europe to the small producers of South America and Africa.

There's no doubt the trade is providing employment in poor rural areas, but are the workers getting a fair deal from it?

And do the retailers benefiting from the popularity of Fairtrade really know what's happening at the other end of chain?

WATCH - Apologies, but this report, narrated by Fran Tinley, is no longer available for copyright reasons.

FAIRTRADE RESPONSE - Read Fairtrade's full response to Dateline's story.

FAIRTRADE BACKGROUND - Find out more about the Fairtrade scheme and its principles.

Fairtrade Response

Following Dateline's broadcast of this story, Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand issued the following response...

"The segment entitled 'Fair Trade?" broadcast on SBS’s Dateline program on Tuesday, 10 April 2012 raised within it a series of questions as to the relevance of Fairtrade Certification and its impact for farmers and producers in developing countries.

The segment was produced using footage from an Austrian documentary originally screened in that country in January this year.

Both the documentary and the Dateline segment feature a select number of Fairtrade Certified farms and claims that Fairtrade does not improve benefits to workers on some of those farms.

Fairtrade always takes such claims very seriously; however, Fairtrade Austria’s response to the original documentary not only questioned the legitimacy of some of the claims made within the documentary but also the level of balanced reporting of the original production.

Fairtrade Australia & New Zealand is disappointed the editing of both the original documentary and the segment aired by Dateline only serve to mislead consumers about the real and positive difference their choice to buy Fairtrade Certified products makes to the lives of the almost 1.2 million farmers and workers we work with in developing countries around the world.

According to Fairtrade International’s Monitoring the Scope and Benefits of Fairtrade Report, in 2010 alone, over AU$63.8 million in additional Fairtrade Premium payments were made to farmers for investment in growing their businesses, improving the quality of product and providing their communities with essential services. This includes healthcare, schooling and access to fresh water.

FLO-Cert (the independent body which certifies all Fairtrade producer cooperatives and farms) conducts rigorous certification audits of the Fairtrade Standards in compliance with ISO 65 - the international standard for certification bodies. Having been made aware of the claims regarding the pineapple plantation Finca Corsicana in Costa Rica, FLO-Cert was unable to verify these allegations during an unannounced inspection visit in September 2011.

It is also important to note that although Corsicana has been certified for some years (since July 2006), the farm only began selling significant volumes under Fairtrade terms within the last 18 months. Fairtrade Premium projects undertaken up until that point included school supplies and fees support as well as environmental projects such as reforestation. Once their Fairtrade sales started to increase, they collectively decided to build a childcare centre. Fairtrade Austria has confirmed with Corsicana that this project is now advanced after initial difficulties regarding planning and approvals.

Fairtrade continues to evolve to better meet the needs of the producers we work with and ensure they are getting the fair deal they deserve. The Fairtrade system is committed to progressively improving conditions for farmers, workers, their families and surrounding communities and in the last 12 months alone the following significant developments have taken place within the system:

"¢ Members of the global Fairtrade system voted unanimously to increase producer representation in the General Assembly to 50 percent, making producers half-owners of the global Fairtrade system.

"¢ A new Workers Rights Strategy has been approved by the FLO Board which will support greater Freedom of Association for workers and provide clearer rules regarding a living wage.

Fairtrade continues its ongoing review of current standards and pricing models for different products to ensure the benefits of Fairtrade for producers and their communities are continually deepened.

Whilst Fairtrade remains unique as the only third party certification system putting people first and working in partnership with these farmers to tackle poverty, the issues facing them and their communities in developing countries are complex and in many cases deeply embedded.

Fairtrade alone is not a silver bullet to ending poverty and removing exploitation. A variety of complementary approaches are needed including increased and better aid, improved global trade rules and better enforcement of existing regulations dealing with the environment and worker’s rights. Ensuring better trading terms for producers and farmers along with offering consumers as well as businesses, both large and small, the opportunity to make an impact with their choices is an important part of an overall approach. It is in this area that Fairtrade continues to be the gold standard for improving transparency, accountability and economic relationships for farmers and producers in often complex and challenging situations.

For further information on the issues facing farmers and workers in developing countries and the ways in which Fairtrade is helping them build a better future please visit www.fairtrade.com.au"

Fairtrade Background

The first Fairtrade labelling scheme was launched in the Netherlands in 1988, with the idea quickly being copied elsewhere in Europe, North America and Japan.

The different organisations came together as Fairtrade International in 1997, based at Bonn in Germany.

The group now has a presence in many countries around the world, including Fairtrade Australia, and describes itself as follows...

"Fairtrade is an alternative approach to conventional trade and is based on a partnership between producers and consumers. Fairtrade offers producers a better deal and improved terms of trade. This allows them the opportunity to improve their lives and plan for their future. Fairtrade offers consumers a powerful way to reduce poverty through their every day shopping.

When a product carries the FAIRTRADE Mark it means the producers and traders have met Fairtrade Standards. The Standards are designed to address the imbalance of power in trading relationships, unstable markets and the injustices of conventional trade."

For more information, go to the Fairtrade International or Fairtrade Australia websites.