Fair Trade Towns Update

Push Walk

The Fair Trade Towns campaign kick started with the inspirational 20 day walk covering 450KM by Push (Pushpanath Krishnamurthy) from the shores of Pondicherry to the hills of Kotigiri. Since the walk ended in December 2015, the Fair Trade Towns movement has continued the hard work of getting organised and involving the varied local stakeholders to commit to Fair Trade. Fairtrade India, Fair Trade Forum India and Push have continued to engage with the local leaders to help build momentum.

Kotagiri and Pondicherry-Auroville are set to be India’s first Fairtrade Towns. To achieve this they are working towards these goals:
1. A wide variety of Fairtrade products are on sale in the shops and available for local government to use.
2. Cafes, stores, restaurants, hotels and workplaces are supportive of Fairtrade and use the products
3. The workers making Fairtrade goods get a fair living wage and safe working conditions.
4. Schoolchildren are taught why Fairtrade matters.
5. The general attitude is supportive of Fairtrade Towns and promotes Fairtrade values.

We can give the movement practical support in this work by fundraising and helping the communities with resource mobilisation. Pushpanath has taken on the role to raise funds for the movement and is doing so in part through his donations webpage on https://www.gopushgo.co.uk/ At the moment the need is for covering costs for Fair Trade materials, meetings, travel and training. When the Fair Trade Towns are under way there will be a range of projects to support.

The Fair Trade Towns movement have always been instrumental in galvanising the grass root movements and communities for raising awareness and instigating real change in local businesses, governments and institutions in support of our farmers and artisans. The Fair Trade Towns movement is at it’s infancy in India but with support from the global Fair Trade movement and with the tirelesswork from local pioneers like Push the movement is poised to really take off and compliment the work of Fairtrade India and Fair Trade Forum India to empower the farmer and artisan communities of India.

Meet the Plant Doctor

Sunny Babu plant doctor

Mr. Sunny Babu has a lot on his plate. Serving the needs of 1000 Fairtrade farmers in the Kottayam and Idukkidistricts , for the Manarcadu Social Services Society (MASS) of Kerala is not a small task. As the resident “Plant Doctor”, a service supported by the community’s Fairtrade Premium, he’s called on daily to help them with the business of growing food, sustainably, in somewhat complex conditions.

Lately , he’s dealing with challenges that come around monsoon season, such as drying and processing spices in wet conditions. But this year, the challenges are even greater: climate change has altered weather patterns. Thus, the harvesting of spices, like nutmeg or cocoa, which normally takes place between May andSeptember, will be delayed. In most cases it will start a month late, but in some places, it may extend even to December

A regular day sees him rising with the birds: 4am is the best time to really see what’s happening with plants. He might check out the banana or spice cultivation for small pests or signs of disease. The early morning is also a good time to irrigate plants. Then by 8am, he’s at his desk in Kottayam, ready to answer his phone from the farmers with their questions.

“Farmers call me and ask me what to do. They are worried about their incomes, and want to ensure the best prices. In most cases, I try to provide them with answers. If I can’t, I’ll do some research and get back to them, and may need to visit them in the field.”

“Storage and processing are often the biggest issues,” says Sunny, “but lately we’ve seen changes to pollination patterns. As they’re not getting the proper rain, as in the case of the pepper plant,there isn’t proper pollination, so yields are decreasing.”

The same thing, he says, is happening with rice. “Also because of the lower monsoon, we find more problems with rice.” Rice cultivation demands decent rains in order to succeed, which is why, traditionally; the crop has been well suited to the moist and warm monsoon conditions of Kerala.

MASS, and Sunny, are fully committed to organic principles. So his task has been to find alternative organic pesticides and organic solutions to disease in rice paddies, vegetables&spices.

Fortunately, he’s well trained. Sunny studied Microbiology at Karpagam College under Bharathiar University in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, before becoming the Plant Doctor in 2010. He’s also a Senior Research Fellow at Regional Agricultural Research Station, Kumarakumin Kerala. His training and current research has led to some success in finding organic solutions.
For example, he worked with a farmer, Kunjumon, in Hyrange, where they found leaf spot and fruit rot on the nutmeg plant.. It was treated successfully with neem oil and garlic emulsion, and his crop is now in good condition.

Aside from being a very proud new father with a 10 month old daughter,
Joahna. S. Muricken, he is clearly passionate about his work, “I enjoy my work, and working with the farmers and MASS has been very rewarding,” he says. “The farmers tell me that they’re making a loss. If they improve their growing, they can improve their income. I feel very proud when I see a farmer who has taken on my advice and is now doing well.”

Ethical consumers are prepared to go further to support social and economic well-being

During the election in April and May, we had an idea about asking people what they would ‘vote’ for when it comes to their purchasing habits. So we polled people online through Facebook and Twitter to uncover more about the interests and motivations of consumers who are committed to responsible purchasing.    Though it was a fairly warm audience — 45% of people who responded were familiar with the Fairtrade mark — there were some interesting findings that emerged:


Farmer suicides, women’s rights as workers and child labour are the top issues for ethical consumers. Seventy-five per cent (75%) of respondents in India said that women’s rights as workers was their top issue overall; with child labour and farmer suicides coming in second and third respectively. Climate change and GM ranked well below these issues in our survey.


Ethical consumers are also those who are prepared to share responsibility with business. 85% of respondents also agreed that upholding the rights of workers and producers, and protecting the environment was a joint responsibility between business and consumers.
Ethical consumers are price sensitive, but not as much as you might think. Ethical consumers, were, on average, willing to spend 25% more for a product they felt was ethical.

You can read more about our survey findings in the Alternative.

Vote for the world you want

“Every time you spend money, you’re casting a VOTE for the kind of world you want” Anna Lappé

It’s election time in India, the world’s largest democracy, a time when a staggering 800+ million people go to the polls. Elections of this scale come once in every 5 years, but each and every day, more than 800 million people take decisions that have the potential to transform the lives of lakhs of farming families in our country.  By making conscious choices in what you buy, you are voting for the world you want to see.

The FAIRTRADE Mark is one way that you can have your say – when you buy a product with the Mark, you’re voting for better prices for farmers, decent working conditions, empowering communities, local sustainability and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers alike.

We don’t think that consumption is the only way to achieve all of these things, there’s an important role for governments too.  You need to be informed before you go to the polls – about what the candidates stand for, and how each meets your own values and expectations. Why not extend your knowledge to your everyday choices as well?

Buying ethically enables you to have an immediate influence on economic, social and environmental justice. It can transform business by making them respond to higher demands from consumers, too. And most importantly, it helps the marginal farmers to live a life of dignity, not only meeting their everyday needs, but also investing towards a brighter future for themselves and their families.

So cast your vote: BUY FAIRTRADE!

 To find out more about what products are available and where you can buy Fairtrade, click here.

Fairtrade Tea in India

The recent blog, titled “Can there be a socially responsibly tea” by Peter Rosenblum and Ashwini Sukhtankar poses the question of whether or not it is possible to produce ‘ethical tea’.  The authors question, among other things, the slow pace of change in the Indian tea industry, and the ability of Fairtrade’s efforts to thus far make significant impact on the lives of tea workers on Indian plantations.

While acknowledging that tea in India is a challenging industry in which to bring about change, we regret that the blog fails to include the specific work Fairtrade has been doing to address issues involving tea workers.  Fairtrade, after 25 years’ experience is the first to acknowledge there are no ‘easy solutions’.  In the words of Fairtrade International Chief Executive, Harriet Lamb, “This is a long difficult journey.  Every day we are dealing with the realities of centuries of oppression, none of which will be solved overnight. Finding the right balance between facilitating trade, development and compliance is a sometimes difficult and arduous task that requires constant improvement and fine tuning.”

The article itself is a testament to the challenges faced by Fairtrade and other stakeholders, illustrating the deep interconnected political and social roots underpinning the unacceptable situation of Indian tea workers.  Fairtrade has indeed learned that our model on its own is not sufficient to tackle the endemic nature of the problem. Only 1 – 2% of global tea is sold on Fairtrade terms, with most Fairtrade tea estates selling less than 10% of their total sales as Fairtrade, a significant limiting factor in promoting change.  Despite this, more recent impact studies do show a range of tangible, yet small number of benefits accruing to tea workers, their families and communities. However they also continue to highlight the problems referred to by the article – particularly the lack of worker empowerment.  Fairtrade is tackling these on a number of fronts.

Fairtrade Hired Labour Strategy and New Hired Labour Standard

Learning from impact studies and consultations with workers across the globe, including on Indian tea plantations, have fed into the 2012 Hired Labour Strategy, followed by the recently approved new Hired Labour Standard.  The new Standard has stronger rules regarding Freedom of Association, requires companies to make progress towards a Living Wage, and stipulates that workers now have autonomy, combined with more flexibility, in how to allocate the Fairtrade Premium. The Standard revision has also introduced a quality requirement for on-site housing for workers, particularly important in the absence of enforcement of government set norms in India. For further information, see http://www.fairtrade.net/single-view+M5ec4971ca57.html

Supporting workers themselves to negotiate better terms and conditions is core to the Fairtrade model, and the new Standard will support us to do more and better.  However we recognise that in parallel the only way to create real substantive change for tea workers is for the whole tea sector to take serious action together to tackle this problem – with plantations, trade unions, Government of India, NGOs, brands and retailers.  That is why Fairtrade is already participating in trying to drive change across the industry.

Multi-Stakeholder Collaboration across the Tea Sector

Last year we issued a report with Oxfam and the Ethical Tea Partnership on ‘Understanding Wage Issues in the Tea Industry’. http://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/oxfam_etp_understanding_wage_issues_in_the_tea_industry.pdf.  We are working collaboratively with other certifiers, leading tea companies and industry bodies, NGOs, trade unions, civil society and governments to advocate for improved wages for workers on tea estates. This joint collaboration could facilitate a new approach to setting tea industry wage benchmarks and the promotion of wage bargaining, so that better wages become a commitment of everyone along the supply chain.  Consumers will also need to play their part.  Simply, tea is too cheap.  Prices have improved in recent years, but compared to a can of coke or jar of coffee, the price of an individual tea bag is very low.

Scaling up on work on unacceptable human rights practices

Fairtrade is confronted with the human cost of inequitable supply chains and unequal power relations across all its operations.  Fairtrade takes a strong stand against forced labour, including human trafficking.  In India, we have, with partners, obtained general knowledge on the patterns of human trafficking flows from the north of India to the rest of the sub-continent and beyond.   We have conducted targeting trainings with producers in South, Central and North India, and with our staff to address these issues.

As Fairtrade International we see an increasing leading role for producer organisations as change agents in the fight against unacceptable social practices.  Over the years, we have experienced diverse responses in producer’s willingness to lead on this issue.  We have seen producers take solid leadership in the fight against child labour in some places, whilst in others denial of the existence of unacceptable practices remains an obstacle to progress.     For more information on this work, see our recently published article “Fairtrade Seeks to Unlock the Power of Local Leadership as an Important Tool in Eliminating Child Labour”,  http://www.fairtrade.net/single-view+M5f7d96e7d81.html.

Commitment to Learning

The study referred to in the blog was commissioned by Fairtrade International to understand more about the opportunities and limitations for Fairtrade to effect change on workers lives in the particularly challenging political economy of the Indian tea sector.   We took very seriously the findings of the research team, and they were followed up as part of our internal learning and commitment to continually strengthening the Fairtrade system.   Whilst most Fairtrade impact studies are commissioned with external academic partners with a view to full publication, as part of our overall commitment to transparency, there are also occasions when we believe it is appropriate to engage with independent researchers also for internal learning purposes.

Rigorous Audit Process

While, as referred to earlier, one of Fairtrade’s key learnings through research and through consultations with worker themselves, has been that Standards and auditing alone are not always sufficient to bring about the level of impact that Fairtrade seeks, they remain a fundamental foundation for worker protection and empowerment.  Controlling compliance with the Fairtrade Standards is conducted by FLO-CERT, an independent, company which is ISO-65 accredited for Fairtrade certification. ISO 65 is the leading internationally recognized quality norm for bodies operating a product certification system.

FLO-CERT auditors are experts in their field. They are familiar with the local and sector-specific realities they are facing on-site. They are also conscious of the elements in the Fairtrade Standards that carry the highest risk for non-conformities. Auditors receive regular training on identification and response required to mitigate those risks. There are strict and transparent allegation procedures in place. Any non-conformity in the area of a core Fairtrade Principle, such as those embedded in the core ILO Conventions, can lead to suspension and ultimately decertification.

In conclusion, Fairtrade welcomes the increasingly spotlight that these researchers together with many stakeholders are placing on the inequity in the India tea sector.  We believe the vision of ‘socially responsible tea’ is ultimately achievable, though we do not underestimate the task at hand.  However, where we differ from the writers is in our commitment that Fairtrade must play a vital role, employing our twenty five years of experience of negotiating the delicate terrain of power and interests against varying backgrounds of political, cultural and economic realities to deliver sustainable change to people’s lives.