20 September, 2017

Fairtrade: setting our sights on the future

Juvencio Membreño Herrera
by Dario Soto Abril, CEO of Fairtrade International

An opinion piece by Darío Soto Abril, Chief Executive Officer of Fairtrade International. This piece first appeared on PlanetaFuturo/ElPaís on September 19, 2017 and is reproduced with their kind permission.

Dario Soto Abril CEOThis year marks the 20th anniversary of the creation of Fairtrade International. Over these two decades, Fairtrade has gone from being a small initiative to a global movement. In 2015 alone, NZ$11.4 billion Fairtrade products were consumed, a 16% increase from 2014. These purchases benefitted 1.6 million producers and workers across 75 countries.

Fairtrade is unique in that it guarantees a price to farmers which covers their production costs, and at the same time provides them with an additional sum (the Fairtrade Premium) to invest in development projects for their communities. The latter is very important because it is the producers themselves who decide what their priorities are and where to invest: for example, in initiatives to improve the productivity of their crops, or in education, health or housing projects. In 2015, the Fairtrade Premium amounted to NZ$215.5 million.

During the 20 years we have been active, we have seen the private sector evolve as it becomes more aware of its role in fostering change. This has translated into greater investment in sustainability programmes and into a commitment to integrate production chains at the global level. Similarly, we have seen how, thanks to globalisation and the growing influence of social networks, citizens are increasingly well-informed and organised, and are demanding from companies and governments policies which are more respectful of the planet and its inhabitants. Indeed, one of our greatest strengths is the network of consumers and activists who have boosted Fairtrade in Europe and North America, and more recently in Australia and New Zealand.

This has contributed to the fact that, in relatively few years, Fairtrade has become the world’s most widely recognised and most valued ethical label, being a trusted partner for the over 1,200 producer associations and over 2,400 companies around the world which use the Fairtrade Mark on their products.

However, we recognise that current political, trade and social realities are not the same as those which led to the rapid expansion of Fairtrade two decades ago. Today, for example, many companies are moving away from independent standards and certification to create their own sustainability schemes under the label of ‘corporate social responsibility’, as they seek to cut costs and address supply chain challenges differently.

The political landscape has also changed. While economic integration remains a constant, today we also see a shift toward protectionist trade policies that focus more on domestic markets instead of on open, barrier-free connections between global value chains.

This new reality requires new interventions on our part. And Fairtrade is setting its sights firmly on the future. In 2016, we adopted a new global strategy which translates into an ambitious plan for growth and expansion. Our promise to consumers of Fairtrade products is that by 2020 we will have made significant advances towards achieving a living wage and income for all of the producers and workers we collaborate with. In particular, we are committed to ensuring that workers on Fairtrade-certified banana plantations receive a living wage by the end of this decade.

We recognise the need for innovation. What worked 20 years ago may not necessarily work today. Therefore, without departing from our successful model and our principles, we are launching new models for partnering with companies which go beyond certification. We are also going to offer supply chain management services to support producers and companies. All of this will be done without neglecting the principles of empowerment and fair conditions of trade for producers.

We also accept that in recent years we have lagged behind somewhat in our aim to communicate the results of the work we do to those who support us. Therefore, our premise for the future is one of totally transparent, honest and focussed communication around our management impact. Our aim is to connect consumers of Fairtrade products with producers and companies which market Fairtrade products, making our value chain much more efficient.

Everyone at Fairtrade embraces the challenge of change with open arms, because ours is an optimistic and innovative movement, which looks to the past in order to build the future. The new Fairtrade is committed to continuing to work for and with producers and consumers. At the same time, we will continue to collaborate with and challenge companies and governments to ensure that the system of trade in the 21st century becomes an engine of prosperity and well-being for all. 

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