Commonwealth leaders urged to 'set example' by backing fair trade

Commonwealth leaders are being urged to prioritise fairer trade practices by empowering women, tackling modern slavery and ending "poverty" wages.

The Fairtrade Foundation warned "exploitation is still rife" in global trade, as it unveiled measures to improve the lives of millions of producers that it wants the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London in April to back.

The plan is being published at the start of Fairtrade Fortnight, which is being marked this year with a "come on in" campaign urging consumers to support the farmers producing key products such as bananas.

While overall Fairtrade sales were up 7% in 2017, more than a quarter of people polled for the Fairtrade Foundation (26%) said they never think about who produces their food and drink.

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And nearly half (46%) were unaware of exploitation in the food chain, the survey of 2,000 people by Censuswide revealed.

The organisation is calling for more people to support Fairtrade, which ensures farmers and workers get a fair price for their products and a "social premium" to spend on investing in their businesses, communities and local environment.

UK consumers have eaten an average of 100 bananas each in the last year, but with the price having fallen 40% in the past 15 years - while productions cost double in some areas, non-Fairtrade farmers are struggling, it said.

To help people make the connection between their food choices and the livelihoods of the people who produce it, the foundation has teamed up with Panama banana farmer Marcial Quintero.

He said: "Before joining Fairtrade we didn't see any benefits, development or profit.

"The price we used to receive per box wasn't enough to cover our costs - and for 17 years the price didn't change.

"Since starting with Fairtrade it's made a mega-revolution in our lives."

Passers-by on London's Millennium Footbridge on Monday will be able to to see what life on a banana farm is like, with a giant double doorway opening to reveal a scene from a banana washing station.

The Fairtrade Foundation also wants Commonwealth governments to take a series of steps to end exploitation and help make trade fairer.

  • Support for women's economic empowerment, including promoting women's leadership, access to finance and asset ownership

  • Commitment to living incomes and living wages across the Commonwealth

  • Combating modern slavery with effective measures, including legislation where appropriate

  • Developing trade policies across the Commonwealth guided by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

  • Investment in producers, including young people, and incentives for businesses who are actively seeking to achieve higher ethical and sustainable standards, including Fairtrade.

Mike Gidney, chief executive of the Fairtrade Foundation said: "When the Commonwealth Heads of Government meet in London this April we want fair trade to be top of the agenda.

"The sad fact is that exploitation is still rife in global trade.

"Until we find a way to, tackle modern slavery, empower women and ensure producers receive a fair wage for their work, this exploitation will continue."

He urged: "Now is the time to prioritise fairer trade. The Commonwealth has the opportunity to set an example to the world."