After fair trade: fair products
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Diop, Demba. 1999. After fair trade: fair products. Spore 80. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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Demba Diop, trained in accountancy and quality management, worked in his native Senegal in the 1980s as assistant manager at the Al Hanafiyatou development foundation. He established the Dutch foundation EcoFair in 1994 to help producers in the...
Demba Diop, trained in accountancy and quality management, worked in his native Senegal in the 1980s as assistant manager at the Al Hanafiyatou development foundation. He established the Dutch foundation EcoFair in 1994 to help producers in the South trade with the North. Using his in-depth experience as a human interface between the North and South, he now works as a consultant with international bodies such as the World Bank. 'Fair trade' is much more than a slogan. It is a real commercial practice, based on fairness and nonexploitation in trading relationships and on environment-friendly production of goods. Fair trade organisations (FTOs) form a well-established movement in Europe, North America, Japan, and elsewhere in the industrialised world. They have even succeeded in shifting products from the distribution channel of charity shops and health food centres into the big business of supermarkets. Fair trade is an ideal that inspires and educates. But we have a long way to go before fair products and fair trade can be of any significance to many ACP farmers. On the face of it, fair trade is about partnership between like-minded people (see Spore 67). Agricultural producers in the South seek a sustainable livelihood, and fair trade outlets in the North offer them the prospect of regular income. In the North, 'partners' in development organisations seek to open up a consumer niche market that will pay a premium for products sourced from a just, nonexploitative, and environment-friendly production system. Small is beautiful ... The fair trade market in Europe is still tiny, but it has some growth potential. I estimate that fair trade coffee accounts for about 2% of the Dutch market, compared with about 5% for bio-organic dairy products, fruit, and vegetables. Enthusiastic consumers in all northern countries will make a special effort to purchase goods with a Fair Trade label. But the point is that the fair trade niche market (sentimental market) is limited, and it will stay that way until we can move fair products into the mainstream. The main value of the fair trade movement, backed by its heavy advertising and insistence on fair trade brands and trademarks, is in educating the northern public. In fact, about half of the extra price charged for fair trade products currently represents the cost of publicity and education work in the consumer market. The fair trade banana is a case in point: it costs up to 40% more than the 'normal' banana, whether that is a dollar banana from Latin America or an ACP plantation banana. In other words, the consumer is paying a premium to inform other consumers. Consumers are becoming more sophisticated, and self-centred but are still human. Most people prefer to buy something that is good for their purse or their health. Fair trade is often compared to the organic foods market, which is based primarily on health concerns, and secondarily on environmental interests. In Denmark, biological dairy products now hold 50% of the total market share, but they are not necessarily produced according to the same principles as those of fair trade. We have to ensure that fair trade products reach these high levels of market share. To do so, we must move beyond the present sentimental market and into the mainstream. This cannot be done by the FTOs; the only way is to open up trade to fair market forces. From the point of view of consumers, they should be able to procure fair trade products from the mainstream, where they will get reliable quality without paying the surcharge. Faced with products of similar quality, they will choose the 'fairer' one, but not at any price. Upstream, on the production side, we have to help the producers rely on themselves, without the protection of the fair trade movement. Such protection is not sustainable and cannot cover more than a small proportion of producers. Without intending it, fair trade in fact creates division among producers. ... but a mass market is better for our farmers Much needs to be done to raise productivity in cooperatives and other sources of fair products, so that they can ultimately compete with multinational plantation produce. Efficiency, waste control, improved input management, economies of scale, and efficiency are concepts that must be adopted by producer groups. We must encourage greater ownership, in very real forms, of the means of production, so that producers are more responsible for their output. Further downstream, more emphasis should be paid to logistics, transport, and marketing strategies. Paradoxically, the fair trade movement is unintentionally paternalistic, which does not help our producers. Whilst a few may be able to supply the sentimental market, which is finite, most will still be exposed to the unjust global market. We have to operate in the global market, and we have to empower our producers to face its challenges. Current World Bank training programmes in West Africa aim to help farmers and traders understand new European legislation on environmental standards for agricultural produce and its restrictions on imports, for example of groundnuts from Mali and Senegal. The strategy is to negotiate directly and equally with importers and to pass through a minimum of intermediaries, whether commodity agents or FTOs. Fair trade has served its purpose in creating an awareness and a demand. But it cannot be considered the universal salvation. Gradually market forces will force FTOs out of the picture. Build confidence Ultimately, we have to deal with Africa's fundamental problem: our loss of confidence. Confidence means security, and it comes from education, taking risks, falling down and standing up again, and not always being protected. We need the confidence to develop a fair product, and to bargain for ourselves. Only then shall we have a fair market.
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