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Fair trade: No action is too small

Fair trade: No action is too small

Campaigning against exploitation and empowering workers

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Many everyday household products and foods are the result of exploitation and poor working practices. The fair trade movement raises awareness of this and campaigns for better working conditions for producers all around the world.  #LCJB16 winner, Ankita Bellary, talks to two young activists in Australia, who are encouraging all of us to be more ethical consumers.

Late last month, Amnesty International published a report, with alarming findings. Some of the world’s most well known companies – like Colgate, Nestle, and Unilever – were selling products containing palm oil, produced by children in Indonesia under dangerous conditions.

Amnesty’s investigation into labour abuses in Indonesia also found that women were sometimes forced to work for less than $2.50 USD a day, with no access to pensions or health insurance.

We live in a world where 168 million children in developing countries between the ages of five and 14 are forced into work. Where 3.5 million people – 85% of whom are women – are employed by the garment industry in Bangladesh, producing cheap clothes for major international brands in abusive, exploitative and unsafe conditions. And where big, profitable companies turn a blind eye whilst their workers suffer and are unable to provide for themselves and their families.

Bunch of Banana with windward islands fair trade logo

Image credit: Lili Vanilli

The fair trade movement seeks to empower workers, especially in developing countries – as well as their families and communities – both socially and economically. “Fairtrade” is the certification that is given to the products that meet the requirements of Fairtrade International (FLO). Through the ten principles of fair trade, producers are able to work in safer conditions and earn fair wages, with an emphasis on environmentally sustainable practises.

The importance of fair trade

Spud Jarrold has been working with Oxfam – a non-governmental organisation (NGO) dedicated to the alleviation of global poverty – for the past six years.

He says, “There is a massive division between the top few percent and the rest of the world. If we are in a position that we can help bring equality and social justice, then why shouldn't we?” He cites the relative simplicity of shopping ethically as one way of achieving this.

Fair trade and Australia’s youth

“I attend a university with more than 40,000 students,” says Marina Burgin, a student at University of Queensland (UQ) and the incoming Oxfam UQ president. “If even a fraction of those people start implementing fair trade choices into their own lives, the impact would be infinitely stronger than any impact I could make alone.”

For Marina, it’s very important to spread the word about fair trade to Australia’s youth. In a society where exploitation is so entrenched and normalised, people don’t usually notice abuses until it’s directly brought to their attention.

Marina remarks that it’s nearly impossible to live a life free of participating in unethical consumerism. “The beauty of fair trade is its consumer accessibility. By simply switching out the three basics – coffee, tea and chocolate – for the ethically certified option, you are making a difference.”

Change in Australia

“We are so incredibly lucky to be blessed with the natural resources that are available to us, not to mention, fair and decent labour laws,” Marina says, but this may also make it harder for Aussies to see the need for fair trade.

Our bananas and sugar are produced locally, but in other parts of the world, Marina remarks, “…these industries are rife with slave labour. So explaining all of this to people who’ve never considered it before can be difficult.”

A poster reading 'Fair trade For the planet For the people'

Image credit: Kevin Dooley

“I have seen some growth in the awareness of fair trade in Australia but it is still very lacking,” Spud says. “I also feel a lot of people out there don't really care that much. In saying that, [the ethics surrounding] markets are getting more interest so things like this are a positive.”

For Marina, the biggest challenge is to overcome is misconceptions about fair trade,  “that it’s not just a way for middle class people to feel better about themselves, that companies can’t just say that they’re ethical and no one follows up on it”.

That’s why Fairtrade certification is so incredibly powerful, because, in her eyes, it separates the green-washers from those who are transparent about their company’s practices.

Beyond this, both Spud and Marina believe that change lies in education. Spud says social media can help the campaign. Marina says, “It will take some time and a lot of conversations, but the same is true of most social justice changes. Patience is key when you are working towards a better world.”

Knowledge is vital

Spud and Marina’s advice for young people wanting to get involved in the campaign for fair trade is practical and motivating.

“Firstly do some research,” Spud says.“Knowledge is vital.”

“Every positive step you take for fair trade is one that sets you apart from the masses of people who are condoning exploitation by choosing not to address it at all,” Marina says. “No action is too small to make a difference.”