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SOAS report casts doubt on effectiveness of Fairtrade mark

30 May 2014


Hand in hand: the comedian and Fairtrade ambassador, Harry Hill,  stands in front of a giant billboard made from over 5000 bananas, on Clapham Common, south London, to mark the start of Fairtrade Fortnight, in February

Hand in hand: the comedian and Fairtrade ambassador, Harry Hill,  stands in front of a giant billboard made from over 5000 b...

A GOVERNMENT-funded research project has called into question the effectiveness of Fairtrade certification in raising the living standards of the world's producers.

The four-year Fair Trade, Employment and Poverty Reduction Project, by the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London, was funded by the Department for International Development (DfID). It found that workers in Fairtrade certified farms were paid less than those working for non-Fairtrade certified producers. It also found cases of child labour and the sexual harassment of workers.

The report's authors blame the Fairtrade movement's emphasis on producers rather than workers, and say that the organisation is unintentionally promoting "a class of emerging rural capitalists".

They say: "The reasons for Fairtrade's failure to make a clear positive difference to wages and conditions, or to the amount of work offered, are fairly clear. They have to do . . . with what this research suggests has been in the past a wilful denial of the significance of wage labour and an obsessive concentration on producers/employers and their organisations.

"This research suggests that a large number of obstacles remain in implementing improved standards in a way that will benefit rural workers. First and foremost is the need not just for more monitoring and evaluation, but also for better methods. And they have to do - especially where Fairtrade certification is awarded to co-operatives - with the espousal of a romantic ideology of how co-operatives operate in poor rural areas."

In response, Fairtrade International said that it was "keen to understand the findings"; but it accused the report's authors of making "generalised conclusions".

In a statement, it said: "We are disappointed to see that the final report has not properly taken account of the many issues we raised, particularly regarding what we view as the report's generalised conclusions, unfair representation of data and lack of attention to the specific interventions of the Fairtrade system when attributing their conclusions to Fairtrade or other factors affecting the experiences of waged workers.

"While we have already taken action on specific issues we have been made aware of, the SOAS data and findings therefore warrant further scrutiny and analysis, and we look forward to the opportunity to do this now that the report has been published."

On its website, SOAS said that the objective of the research was "to make a detailed case for new, cost-effective interventions directly targeted to improve the standards of living of the poorest people involved in agricultural export commodity production".

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