The Commonwealth can end exploitation and lead in making trade fair

Banana farmer from Panama

Ahead of the Commonwealth Summit meeting and at the start of Fairtrade Fortnight 2018 the Fairtrade Foundation is calling on Commonwealth Heads of Government to put fairness at the heart of their trade plans by committing to ending poverty wages, support more women into positions of economic strength and leadership and sign up to end the scourge of modern slavery. 

The Commonwealth plays a vital role in the Fairtrade movement with 1/3 of countries exporting Fairtrade goods (33%) being Commonwealth members. 

On the first day of Fairtrade Fortnight 2018 the Fairtrade Foundation is asking Commonwealth Heads of State to commit to a practical plan to end exploitation at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting being held in London in April. The call comes on the opening day of the Commonwealth Parliamentarians’ Forum which will help set the agenda for the meeting in April.

Support for women’s economic empowerment, including measures to promote women’s leadership, access to finance and asset ownership, represents a huge opportunity for the Commonwealth. Women, on average, comprise 43 percent[i] of the agricultural labour force in developing countries but own far less land and livestock than men. It is calculated that closing the employment participation gap and wage gap between women and men would have a global value of $17 trillion[ii].  

Among the other measures proposed in the plan is a commitment to living incomes and ending poverty wages in the Commonwealth supply chains; for example banana workers in the Lower Volta region of Ghana receive about  £122 a month and a rise of only £44[iii] would provide workers with the living wage. The Fairtrade Foundation is supportive of existing efforts brought forward by countries including the UK and Canada to address modern slavery and human rights abuses, and we hope that other Commonwealth countries will follow suit. Australia is expected to pass its own modern slavery law in the coming months.  

Embracing Fairtrade represents a huge commercial opportunity for the Commonwealth. The Fairtrade retail market in the UK grew 7% in 2017, according to independent data. Additionally public support is at an all-time high with new data showing that 93% of people are aware of Fairtrade while 83% of people trust the Fairtrade Mark whilst more businesses than ever before are getting behind Fairtrade.

The Fairtrade Foundation’s plan sets out five ways in which Commonwealth governments could support fair trade for development:

  • Support women’s economic empowerment, including measures to promote women’s leadership, access to finance and asset ownership.
  • Commit to living incomes and living wages across the Commonwealth.
  • Combat modern slavery through the implementation of effective measures across the Commonwealth, including legislation where appropriate.
  • Develop trade policies across the Commonwealth guided by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their achievement by 2030.
  • Invest in producers, including young people, and provide incentives for businesses who are actively seeking to achieve higher ethical and sustainable standards, including Fairtrade.

Mike Gidney, CEO of the Fairtrade Foundation said:

“Last year more people in the UK got behind Fairtrade and together with many well-known businesses indicated they want more, fairer trade and less exploitation in their goods.

The sad fact is that exploitation is still rife in global trade, characterised by modern slavery, disempowered women and farmers and workers on poverty wages. 

 “Commonwealth leaders and heads of state have before them a moment where they can come together and lead the world by ending the exploitation of some of the poorest workers and supporting truly fair trade.”

The five-point plan comes on the same day The Fairtrade Foundation unveiled a giant double doorway opening onto a scene from a banana farm on the Millennium Footbridge between St Paul’s Cathedral and the Tate Modern, London.

The stunt marked the start of the Fairtrade Fortnight “Come On In” campaign, calling on the public to stand with farmers to close the door on exploitation and ensure farmers and producers get a fair deal.

The campaign will also explore how businesses, farmers, workers and shoppers come together through Fairtrade to make a difference.

Find out more in our report: Fairtrade and the Commonwealth: a Five-Point Plan for Prosperity, Sustainability and Fairness

[i] FAO (2011) The State of Food and Agriculture: Women in Agriculture – Closing the gender gap for development. Rome: FAO.

[ii] Action Aid (2015) Close the gap! The cost of inequality in women’s work

[iii] Iseal Alliance: Global Living Wage Coalition:  Currency conversion from Ghanaian Cedi to British Pounds made February 2018