Does buying Fairtrade really help vulnerable children?
On the 20th of November World Children’s Day is celebrated universally to promote international togetherness, awareness among children worldwide, and improve children’s welfare.
November 20th is a significant date as it is the date in 1959 when the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. It is also the date in 1989 when the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Both the declaration and the convention continues to significantly affect how children are treated in welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative bodies, educational institutions and society.
World Children’s Day offers each of us an inspirational entry-point to advocate, promote and celebrate children’s rights, translating into dialogues and actions that will build a better world for children.
This year the COVID19 crisis has resulted in a child rights crisis. The costs of the pandemic for children are immediate and, if unaddressed may last a lifetime.
At Montville Coffee we often consider two particularly relevant Articles included in the Convention on the Rights of the Child relating to education and economic exploitation of children:
States Parties recognise the right of the child to education, and with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity.
States Parties recognize the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child's education, or to be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.
We value these Articles with the knowledge that we are in an industry rife with exploitation. Coffee farmers receive 7-10 percent of the retail price of coffee sold in supermarkets. When prices fall below the costs of production, farmers may struggle to feed their families and pay medical bills and school fees. Often they are forced to keep their children out of school to contribute to the family income, by working on the farm or as a casual labourer.
Growing and harvesting coffee involves labour-intensive manual work, such as picking, sorting, pruning, weeding, spraying, fertilising and transporting.
Factors outside of a farmer’s control – such as global commodity prices, free-market economic policies, adverse weather and shifting market shares – may cause global coffee prices to fluctuate. If the global market and international coffee companies push for a lower price, coffee farmers may earn as little as 1-3 percent of the retail price.
Lack of price stability for coffee can lead to situations of labour exploitation, where workers and their families have little choice but to work in exploitative or dangerous conditions to earn a small income.
So how does Fairtrade help vulnerable children then?
A thriving school in Purosa, PNG - Highlands Organic Agriculture Cooperative (HOAC)
Fairtrade aims to improve labour and environmental standards and educate workers to improve their skills, products and subsequently profit - through both practical interventions and international policy reform.
Rather than forcing farmers to sell below the cost of production, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and inequality, producers receive a Fairtrade Minimum Price which acts as a safeguard against falling prices. Furthermore if the market price increases, they’re able to reap (and keep) the rewards. Fairtrade is the only certification scheme that offers this unique minimum price protection. This enables farms to plan for their future and avoid a perpetuating cycle of poverty and inequality.
On top of the Fairtrade Minimum Price, communities also receive the Fairtrade Premium, a fixed additional amount of money that provides farmers and workers with the capacity to invest in improving their businesses and communities. This could be a hospital, a school, training facilities or farming equipment.
The Fairtrade Standards are the cornerstone of Fairtrade. The Fairtrade Standards ensure fairer terms of trade between farmers and buyers, protect workers’ rights and provide frameworks for producers to build thriving farms and organisations. In relation to children, Fairtrade Standards ensure the following:
- Children below the age of 15 are not to be employed by Fairtrade organizations.
- Children below the age of 18 cannot undertake work that jeopardises their schooling or their development.
- Children are only allowed to help on family farms under strict conditions. The work must be age appropriate and be done outside of school hours, or during holidays.
- In regions with a high likelihood of child labour, small producer organizations are encouraged to include a mitigation and elimination plan in their Fairtrade Development Plan.
- If an organisation has identified child labour as a risk, the organization must implement policy and procedures to prevent children from being employed.
Ending child labour needs everyone – farmers, consumers, businesses and governments to play their part. By purchasing Fairtrade products you are not only supporting producers to earn a better living and send their children to school but to also tackle the underlying causes of child labour in their communities.
We hope you take some time on the 20th of November to consider the rights of children, to celebrate how far we have come and to ponder the plight of vulnerable children all over the world. Are we doing everything we can?