There is a shift underway. It’s happening in the cocoa fields and on shipping docks, you can see it in board rooms and on grocery store shelves, everywhere. Corporate social responsibility is no longer a nice-to-have. Responsible sourcing has gone mainline as companies realize that sustainable supply chains are the only way forward. Years of volatile prices have undercut farmers’ ability to invest in productivity and quality, the effects of climate change are increasing, inequality is growing, and food insecurity continues to plague many communities.
Among consumers, awareness and interest in sustainability continues to grow. According to the Hartman Group (2015), familiarity with sustainability concepts has reached an all-time high of 70% in the US. We see this every day as packaging has shifted as hues of brown and green and words like natural, organic, direct trade become more commonplace.
The definition of sustainability varies from person to person, company to company. For some, sustainability is being able to deliver a product to shelf at an affordable price with consistent quality. For others it’s an environmental affair tallying carbon credits, reducing your impact.
At Fairtrade America, we look at sustainability from a holistic perspective – social, economic and environmental – that spans the entire supply chain from the person putting the seed in the ground to the grounds going into your morning cup. Transformative change begins when farmers and workers, their families, and their communities are in a position to decide on the future on their terms and extends all the way to the respect we show for the end consumer.
In just four years, Fairtrade America has become the third largest national Fairtrade organization in terms of producers’ sales on Fairtrade terms. In 2015, the US market for Fairtrade goods grew by 33% and we nearly doubled the number of products on store shelves, meaning many new opportunities for farmers and workers to sell their products on Fairtrade terms. New studies show that Fairtrade certification has a direct positive impact on income, empowerment, collective bargaining, and living standards for farmers and workers. Our work in program areas like workers’ rights, gender, child and forced labor, climate change, and small-scale producer development are helping us improve our work across many products.
But we have a long way to go in achieving our goals of fairer trade and sustainable, dignified livelihoods. Producers regularly express that they need to significantly increase sales on Fairtrade terms if they are to escape from poverty. The effects of climate change are becoming more and more evident in their communities.
True sustainability comes when the voices of small-scale farmers and workers are heard at the highest levels of commerce and government.
True sustainability will come when the voices of small-scale farmers and workers are heard at the highest levels of commerce and government. The international Fairtrade system is the only ethical certification system that involves producers at every level of governance – in the international General Assembly, Board of Directors, and Standards Committee.
In July 2015, we had the honor of representing the international Fairtrade system at the UN headquarters during the development of the Sustainable Development Goals. The 17 Global Goals focus on ending poverty ‘in all its forms everywhere’. Thanks to Fairtrade’s unique position at the intersection of trade and development, we are able to unite with our stakeholders to make concrete contributions to the Global Goals. Indeed, our 2016-2020 strategy – Changing Trade, Changing Lives (PDF) – demonstrates how we can make a formidable impact, but we are keenly aware that Fairtrade is just one piece of the puzzle.
This past year has marked a dramatic shift for Fairtrade America as we became a full member of Fairtrade International with a stake in a system that reflects our values. Our organization continues to grow and in the coming year, we will use our influence to help attract consumers, civil society actors and business partners who will join our efforts to spur development in the communities we serve. We are proud to be part of the Fairtrade system and we will strive to ensure the voices of small-scale farmers and workers are heard.
Hans Theyer, Executive Director
Werner Kiene, Board Chair