Are Certifications Doing Enough?

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Cocoa producers of the Yakasse-Attobrou Agricultural Cooperative gather cocoa pods in a certified Fair Trade-label cocoa plantation in Adzope, Ivory Coast. Sia Kambou/AFP/Getty Images

Our friends who generally oppose regulations and other efforts to protect people and the environment, saying that these protections inhibit growth and innovation and often fail to achieve the protections they are supposed to create, may sometimes have a point. But from our perspective, they too often point in the wrong direction. Constant monitoring to evaluate the efficacy of these protections is a point we might agree on, assuming we are not ideologically driven on either side of this topic.  With every big step forward towards greater sustainability, it is important to pause and consider the impact. Among other things, we must ask whether we are doing enough:

Fair Trade Helps Farmers, But Not Their Hired Workers

It’s a disturbing question that haunts many shoppers with good intentions: What am I actually accomplishing by buying coffee or chocolate with the Fair Trade label? Does the extra money that I pay actually benefit the people who harvested those beans?

Researchers have been curious, too. They’ve found that, in fact, small farmers in Latin America and Africa do benefit from the minimum price that Fair Trade guarantees and the extra money it delivers to farmer cooperatives. Researchers have documented higher wages, greater participation in community decisions, and even greater gender equity.

Yet Eva Meemken, an agricultural economist currently at Cornell University, noticed a blind spot in all that research: “They mostly look at farmers. Almost nobody looks at workers” on those farms, she says.

Meemken spent several months filling in that blind spot, interviewing farmers and their hired workers in 50 different cocoa-growing cooperatives in Ivory Coast. About half of the cooperatives are Fair Trade-certified; the other half are not.

The results just appeared in the journal Nature Sustainability. Meemken found that Fair Trade-certified cooperatives paid higher wages to their member farmers, compared with the non-Fair Trade cooperatives. Those benefits did not, however, extend to hired workers. Those workers were paid the same, whether the cooperative was certified at Fair Trade or not.

“It’s sad to see that there is no effect at the farmworker level,” Meemken says, “because those are the poorest members of the supply chain and those with almost no power.”…

Read the whole story here.

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