Fairtrade benefits rural workers but inequality prevails, study shows

fairtrade benefits
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A new study highlights how Fairtrade benefits employees in agricultural cooperatives, but not those in the smallholder farm sector.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Göttingen and international partners and published in Nature Sustainability, shows that Fairtrade certification improves the situation of employees in agricultural cooperatives; but not of workers in the smallholder farm sector, who are often particularly disadvantaged – does this meant that Fairtrade benefits some but not all?

When consumers of cocoa, coffee and other tropical goods decide to purchase products with the Fairtrade label, they pay a certain premium with the expectation of helping to improve socioeconomic conditions in developing countries. The authors of the study, aimed at gauging to what degree Fairtrade benefits poor rural workers in Africa, collected representative data from 1000 cocoa farmers and workers in 50 different cooperatives in Cote d’Ivoire in West Africa, the largest producer and exporter of cocoa worldwide.

Matin Qaim, an agricultural economist at the University of Göttingen, said: “Previous studies had analysed the effects of Fairtrade on smallholder farmers, ignoring that these farmers also employ agricultural workers for crop cultivation and harvesting. Workers in the small farm sector constitute a large group. They are often neglected by development initiatives, although they typically belong to the poorest of the poor.”

Fairtrade requires minimum wages and fair labour conditions for workers and employees in certified value chains. Eva-Marie Meemken from Cornell University in the USA said: “These conditions are met for the employees in cocoa cooperatives. At the cooperative level, Fairtrade requirements are regularly monitored. However, our data show no effects on the livelihoods of farmworkers, even though the farmers themselves benefit from Fairtrade certification. Monitoring the wages and labour conditions on thousands of small farms is costly and therefore rarely done; but it doesn’t work without monitoring. Better solutions have to be found in order to implement the fairness model more comprehensively.”

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