17 July, 2015

Fairtrade and the Sustainable Development Goals

by Ed Moseley, Commercial Consultant for the Fairtrade Foundation

The SDGs are expected to be signed up to and endorsed by the UN and member countries in September this year and lay out an aspirational and universal agenda to eradicate poverty once and for all. But can they really do this when the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) preceding them left altogether unequal progress (especially for Sub-Saharan Africa as you can see from the graphs above)?

The SDGs span from ensuring sustainable patterns of consumption and production through to reducing inequality within and among countries, and even touch on combating climate change.

Targets within the goals are radical and include (non-exhaustively) the full eradication of extreme poverty (according to its current definitions), the complete end to hunger and food insecurity around the world, and the realisation of ‘duty-free, quota-free market access on a lasting basis for all least developed countries consistent with WTO decisions.’

Whilst these targets are progressive, very difficult – and according to the Economist expensive - to achieve, and emphasise the necessity of collaboration between all areas of society[1], the goal on climate change shifts responsibility to other UN bodies through the Paris Climate Change Conference this Winter where, arguably, the big environmental decisions and commitments will be made.

That said, however, most of the goals do interlace sustainable environmental practices and the building of resilience and adaptive capacity for the effects of climate change.

Fully interlinked and interdependent

Whilst the centremost goal is and always will be ending poverty, the goals are fully interlinked and interdependent.

For example, to eradicate poverty (Goal 1), sustainable economic growth and lasting growth in jobs’ markets is essential (Goal 8). In order to achieve this growth, businesses supply chains need to be sustainable. To achieve this those businesses need to have sustainable patterns of consumption and production (Goal 12).

In order to allow for one SDG to be met, you need to tackle the economic, social, and environmental issues hand-in-hand.

You cannot have a sustainable economy with no proper education system.

You cannot have a sustainable jobs market with unwell people.

It is impossible to rid the world of extreme poverty when people are unequal because of who they are or where they live. When they have no access to clean water, no energy, live in a dangerous area, and have no basic access to resources to ensure, maintain, and improve their own lives the SDGs cannot be achieved.

To put it simply, if we don’t strive to ensure the economic, social, and environmental sustainability of farmers and workers in the developing world as well as our own, they may not be capable of producing the goods and services which we want to import, and cannot produce ourselves, in the future, and there will always be an undesired dependency on aid.

What can Fairtrade do?

So, why Fairtrade? Why should we be involved in the development and delivery of the SDGs? The answer is relatively simple. Fairtrade’s core vision, its long-term goals presented in the Theory of Change, and the organisation’s very name resound with the importance of sustainability.

Sustainable trade and the end-products thereof are fundamental to Fairtrade’s key messages and goals – particularly, improving the livelihoods of farmers and workers in the developing world.

Through Fairtrade’s mechanisms, such as the minimum price, the Premium, and the Standards, the Deepening Impact programme, and the commitment of our campaigners and partners, Fairtrade can make a lasting, positive difference to the lives of those at the other end of the supply chain.

Let’s make conditions such that everyone around the world earns a fair, living wage. Let’s tackle inequality so that everyone, no matter who they are, is allowed to, encouraged to, and provided with the necessary securities (economic, social, and environmental) to participate fully in, and in turn benefit fully from, the fruits of their labour.

Let’s not just do this in the short term for temporary benefit. Let’s do this with the future at the forefront of our minds and actions. Let’s grab the reins of the SDGs and their targets when they are finalised this September, focus on where we can make a difference, and push ourselves and those with whom we work to achieve lasting, universal, positive, and sustainable change.

Let’s ensure that in fifteen years’ time when the SDGs expire, the inequalities in progress against the MDGs no longer exist.


[1] A NEW GLOBAL PARTNERSHIP: ERADICATE POVERTY AND TRANSFORM ECONOMIES THROUGH SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT, The Report of the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda

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