24 August, 2017

Transforming trade to transforming lives - What does it take?

Tea fields
by Molly Harriss Olson, CEO Fairtrade ANZ

The Asia Pacific is often called the world’s economic powerhouse, and for good reason. The world’s most rapidly developing region is being transformed by population growth, a rising middle class and an explosion of economic activity. Governments and businesses view it as the global epicentre for development and, let’s be honest, the centre of potential commercial profits.

Global management consultant McKinsey has tracked the centre of the world’s economic activity, finding that it is shifting south and east towards Asia at a rate faster than at any time in human history.

As we know, trade is a central part of this economic movement and can be a force for good – or not. This explosive economic development comes at a price. An estimated 600 million people in Asia Pacific live in poverty – that’s more than half the world’s poor. More than 490 million are undernourished and another 11.5 million – or 56% of the global total for this metric – are trapped in modern forms of slavery.

The case for change

A potential tipping point is approaching. A host of interconnecting factors – from climate change and population growth to rapid urbanisation and the rising middle class – is disrupting traditional thinking, business models, societies and social mores.

We are demanding more from our business and political leaders than ever before, and we expect corporations to demonstrate their social license to operate. In this context, a world in which small producers and workers can enjoy secure and sustainability livelihoods is within our grasp.

Hidden within these statistics are several strengths. Fairtrade currently operates in 25 countries across the Asia Pacific and sales of Fairtrade products continues to grow. We generate more than AUD$325 million a year in sales in the Australia and New Zealand market, and a whopping $1.1 billion of sales in India.

Understand the love

What does it take to transform trade?

Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand recently released a discussion paper, Transforming Trade, Transforming Lives, which examines the role Fairtrade plays in alleviating poverty and growing prosperity across our region. We also have a powerful new ally: the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs or Global Goals) and, along with the 193 nations that adopted them, we will unlock the power of the SDGs in farming cooperatives. We will strive to help make the world a better place for people living in poverty.

For example, take the Highlands Organic Agriculture Cooperative (HOAC), a coffee growing cooperative in a remote part of the Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea. Since achieving Fairtrade certification in 2005 this collective has invested in a range of transformative projects to improve the lives of up to 60,000 people throughout the entire community.

The Fairtrade Premium has helped HOAC to invest in tools and training to increase its capacity to produce large amounts of high quality coffee, enhance productivity, and help farmers gain transferrable skills.

And the benefits of Fairtrade reach far beyond the coffee gardens. HOAC recently funded a water supply project for the local community worth more than $65,000. Schools have been constructed, female quotas in decision making have improved the lives of women, and programs are supporting long-term climate resilience. This work addresses numerous SDGs – from tackling poverty and hunger to improving gender equality and taking action on climate.

Coffee Training PNG

Specialty coffee training session with HOAC in PNG

Stretching our impact through the region

The story of HOAC is just one story of transformation. Our challenge is to replicate it throughout our region. We want producers to access fair prices and new markets to enable them to plan for their future, sell more product and predict the price they will receive on their commodities. Our challenge is to increase our partnerships to achieve the Global Goals, and their reach to drive Fairtrade throughout our region, and strengthen our impact with producers.

Our ambitious, audacious goal is to collaborate with 850,000 farmers and workers throughout the Asia Pacific by 2030. This means 920 producer organisations generating more than one million tonnes of Fairtrade crops and products a year. And it means three quarters of a billion dollars in Fairtrade sales and $86 million in Fairtrade Premiums improving the lives and livelihoods of the people of our region.

The phrase “transformational journey” is something of a cliché, but in the case of Fairtrade it’s true. Embedding fairness into global trade demands a radical rethink of our business practices and of our underlying assumptions.

But it can be done. By working together toward the Global Goals (SDGs), we can build a fairer future for everyone in our region.

Close up of bananas

Kiwis eat more than 19 KGs of bananas per person each year.

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