Fair Trade: A Social Responsibility

Although May 14, 2011 marked World Fair Trade Day, the awareness campaign continues. Individuals and companies alike are getting creative in their quest to support the fair and sustainable treatment of food producers through activities, including Fair Trade coffee breaks throughout the U.S., which drew over 50,000 participants on World Fair Trade Day and the launch of an app called Heavenly Hashtag. Many of these Fair Trade supporters in the U.S. may be surprised to learn that while the United States supports Fair Trade around the world, it does not adhere to the International Labor Organization (ILO) Conventions 182, even though it is a signatory of the ILO agreements, seemingly standing in stark contrast to what Fair Trade aims to correct.

So what is Fair Trade all about?

Fair Trade is a partnership, between the producer and the purchaser, based upon mutual respect where choices are made taking into account the well-being of people and the environment, while providing practical options allowing people to meet their own basic needs, as defined by The Fair Trade Resource Network. It initially began as an organized social movement and market-based approach designed to help producers in developing countries – especially in the Southern hemisphere – create better trading conditions and promote sustainability. Today, Fair Trade is a global effort that has far extended its reach beyond crafts and coffee.

As a consumer, when you buy produce that has a Fair Trade label you are essentially supporting standards that have been set in place to address the unequal power structure in trading relationships, and the injustices of conventional trade. The standards of Fair Trade address not only the different types of disadvantaged producers, but the terms of trade. Fair Trade standards are designed to support the sustainable development of small-scale producers and agricultural workers in the poorest of countries around the world. Fair Trade also distinguishes between working children and child laborers, recognizing that children work to combat their own poverty or that of their family. Defining child labor as work that is hazardous, exploitive or that undermines a child’s education or his/her emotional and physical health.

To ensure that children have the protection they deserve, Fair Trade has recently developed Fair Trade’s Child Protection Policy and Procedures. The internal document stipulates that those who come in contact with children in the Fair Trade system need to adhere to this policy and procedures. In alignment with the Policy and Procedures, the system is designed to work in close partnerships with leading civil society organizations, including children’s rights organizations, to ensure Fair Trade responses to children’s rights, with regard to work, are in accordance with the guidelines of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child and the relevant ILO Conventions included in Fair Trade Standards.

Fair Trade works to do its part to ensure that the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education is realized by working with farmers and workers to ensure all school-going age children are attending school. And, in places where schools are absent, they work with communities and other Fair Trade operators to increase access to basic education.

The U.S. continues to advocate on behalf of children all over the world which is to be lauded, but it neglects to do the same for America’s children. The U.S. must make the safety of all children, including those that work in agriculture, a priority at home too by strengthening and equalizing the U.S. child labor laws Children cannot become empowered agents of change to improve their lives, as well as their families and communities, if they are not protected and given an opportunity to attend and complete primary education.

The Children in the Fields Campaign advocates for the protection of farmworker children, because without a diploma, these youth are left to grow up with few options other than farm work thus perpetuating the cycle of poverty that accompanies it. For more information on child labor in the U.S. and what you can do to get involved visit AFOP’s website and be sure to check out “Year of the Farmworker Child”

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