Michael Gidney: Changing Trade, Changing Lives, Fairtrade Can, I Can

By Michael Gidney, CEO Fairtrade Foundation

 

“Change is in your pocket: be the change you wish to see in the world.” 

At the Fairtrade Foundation we’re about to launch our new 2016-20 strategy. Like all of you, we’ve been exploring how we adapt to the many seismic shifts and trends, which will affect the ability of Fairtrade businesses and supply chains to fight poverty.  Climate change is hitting home in many parts of the world, with 12 million hectares of usable farmland lost each year. In the UK pressures in the retail sector are changing how supermarkets operate, as new entries from Aldi and Lidl challenge the market. But there is also another element of change that consumers and companies are waking up to - the change in our pocket which, when used wisely, can change the world. Or to recall the sentiments of Ghandi, be the change you wish to see in the world.

 

However as the expression goes, the more things change, for many farmers the more they are staying the same. Many of the farmers who grow our food are still facing a meagre existence in a system that lets them go hungry for several months before harvest, or even a general level of hunger throughout the year. And that is true for many smallholder farmers in the world today. Women produce 60-80% of the world’s food, yet since the 1970s the number of women living below the poverty line has increased by 50%. Numbers of children working in hazardous conditions in cocoa fields in Cote d’Ivoire have risen 46% in the past five years.

The pace of change is not just unacceptably slow, for many it’s simply not happening. We are proud of our record in making a difference over the last 20 years for many farmers and workers, but we are always challenging ourselves how we can do better. And it’s not just us. We are being challenged to do better by our producers who own 50% of the organisation, and also by the businesses in our system.

This brings me to our new five year strategy, “Changing Trade, Changing Lives, Fairtrade Can, I Can," in one sense we are going back to our roots, by focusing on our key commodities of cocoa, coffee, tea, bananas and flowers, yet in other ways we are changing, to deliver more on the ground for our producers, and to share more of their stories with the companies and consumers who have supported their growth.

 

And as we ask the public and businesses to change, we are changing too. We are going to connect better with consumers, to show how their investment in Fairtrade means an investment in a better, more sustainable life for the people who grow our bananas, our tea, our coffee and cocoa. We will continue to innovate, to learn, and find new, better ways of delivering the change we all want to see and our producers so rightly need. Fairtrade Sourcing Programs (FSP) for cocoa, cotton and sugar are one example of how we are innovating beyond the original product certification to provide businesses with more opportunities to source on Fairtrade terms, but there is more to come. The launch of Fairtrade’s Climate Standard, a new Gender Strategy, and programmes establishing Living Wage benchmarks and engaging industry-wide collaboration towards them, are others.

 

The adoption of the new UN Global Goals on Sustainable Development provide a once-in-a-generation opportunity for business and NGOs to innovate together towards a shared vision, with common indicators for the development we seek. At the heart of this, those at the bottom of our supply chains must have the opportunity to be the change they seek to – to drive their own processes of development, with business providing catalytic investment and technical support. Our evidence shows that when farmers and producers are better off it gives them the opportunity, the protection to innovate as well. Improve quality and yield. Diversify. Grow new crops. Build processing facilities and explore local markets. Fairtrade is helping to sow the seeds of change in the short term but also providing support for the long term.

 

However amidst all this change, some things will stay the same. Or core mission will not change, but it will intensify. As more companies embark on new supply chain or social development initiatives, the need for independent third party verification has never been stronger, and consumer insight shows this is what the public trusts most. With growing public scrutiny on global supply chain practices, human rights and increasing transparency and accountability being demanded by shoppers and shareholders alike, the companies buil

ding the most credible partnerships and evidence-based claims will gain the most market advantage. So, as we launch our 2016-20 Strategy this Fairtrade Fortnight, our ambition is to make the next 5 years to 2020 Fairtrade’s most impactful to date. That will take every the effort and creativity of every single individual, from our campaigners in the high streets, to the business leaders in the board rooms, and the farm managers in the fields. We know we can change trade, and change lives – if we work together. And when people say I can, Fairtrade can.

 

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