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Think Globally, Act Locally Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Lisa Campbell, Canada Apr 17, 2005
Human Rights   Opinions


Our world is becoming smaller and smaller due to increases in global communications technology, transportation, international politics, and an interdependent global market. From these global interactions there is an emerging sense of community among people who are geographically far away. Distance loses its significance,and we find that issues affecting farmers in Mexico or Guatemala are similar to the issues facing farmers in Canada. People's concerns about economy and politics around the world are our concerns as well, as they affect us in similar ways. Now more than ever we are connected and responsible for one another. It is in this spirit that Fair Trade shows up on the market as a righteous choice for consumers. Fair Trade means an equitable and fair partnership between consumers in North America and producers around the world. The main campaign of the Fair Trade movement has been around coffee producers. Agriculture workers in the coffee industry often toil in what can be described as "sweatshops in the fields"; many small coffee farmers receive prices for their coffee that are less than the costs of production. Under the current system of coffee trade, less than 10% of what consumers pay for coffee reaches the farmer who grows the beans. Of the 25 million coffee producers, approximately 15 million are small farmers. Unable to export directly they must sell their crops to mid-level traders, or as they are commonly called in Central America, 'coyotes’. These traders often use their monopoly position to force the farmer to sell low. The 'coyotes' also act as lenders for the farmers, and they demand extremely high interest payments. This type of exploitation results in a spiraling debt cycle that leaves farmers and families further impoverished.

This debt bondage is actually considered one of the most common types of slavery, trapping 15 million to 20 million people world-wide in loan agreements they can never pay off: "With world market prices as low as they are right now, we see that a lot of farmers cannot maintain their families and their land anymore. We need Fair Trade now more than ever," says Jerónimo Bollen, Director of Manos Campesinas, a Fair Trade coffee cooperative in Guatemala. Meanwhile coffee companies have not lowered consumer prices but are pocketing the difference. "The drastic fall in coffee prices means, in two words, poverty and hunger for thousands of small producers in Latin America," says Merling Preza Ramos, Director of PRODECOOP Fair Trade cooperative in Nicaragua. Fair Trade is a viable solution to this crisis, assuring consumers that the coffee we drink was purchased under fair conditions. Fairly traded coffee is bought directly from farming cooperatives, which eliminates the role of the midlevel trader and allows farmers to earn a fair living. Fair Trade guarantees to poor farmers organized in cooperatives around the world: a living wage (minimum price of $1.26/pound regardless of the volatile market); much needed credit at fair prices; and long term relationships. These fair payments are invested in health care, education, environmental stewardship, and economic independence.

Small coffee farmers are naturally the best stewards of the land, as they don't have the capital input to clear forests, buy chemical fertilizers, and pesticides. They generally grow plots of mixed-crop, shade grown coffee organically. Fair trade is a growing consumer trend. More and more people care about the labor conditions of the people who produce the products they buy. If you feel you're apart of this global village, take action regarding this important topic. Support coffee farmers by drinking Fair Trade coffee. Be sure to ask for it at local coffee outlets!



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Lisa Campbell

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