February 25th, 2019

Why Fairtrade Matters for Pineapples and Coconuts

While most people are familiar with Fairtrade on at least a surface level, few truly understand what is, what it does, and why it’s so important. And while we tend to think of Fairtrade as applying mainly to things like coffee and chocolate, it’s important for a wide variety of commodities — including pineapples and coconuts.

What Does Fairtrade Mean?

According to the Charter of Fair Trade Principles, fair trade is a trading partnership that’s based on dialogue, transparency, and respect, and seeks greater equity in international trade. It offers better trading conditions and rights for workers and marginalized producers, and is based on a number of key tenets:

  • No child or forced labor
  • Fair wages for workers
  • Safe working conditions
  • Commitment to non-discrimination and gender equality
  • Commitment to women’s economic empowerment

When you buy an item that bears the Fairtrade symbol, you know that it’s been responsibly and ethically sourced. And there are lots of those products out there. More than 1.6 million farmers and workers making a living in the more than 1,200 Fairtrade certified producer organizations in 75 countries around the world.

How It Applies to Pineapples and Coconuts

Conventional trade is, too often, largely focused on greater efficiency and lower prices. It’s a race to the bottom, with little concern or consideration for the impact that it has on society, the economy, and the environment. The markets for pineapple and coconuts are no exception.

The last five to 10 years has seen a boom in demand for these commodities — but by and large, the workers who help feed this demand haven’t seen much in the way of rewards. In fact, many of them continue to live in poverty, with little in the way of job security and, in the case of pineapples, consistent exposure to toxic pesticides and other chemicals. When prices for these goods plummet in the market, it often means the deterioration of already-poor working conditions and/or a cut in wages for workers already earning only about half of what they deem to be a ‘living wage.’

Exacerbating the situation is the fact that many producers sell their commodities to middlemen, who then resell to factories at a markup of more than 50%. Research conducted by Consumers International found that for every dollar spent on pineapple, 41 cents go to retailers, 38 cents to multinational traders, and 17 cents to plantation owners. Typically, workers see only about 4 cents (or 4%), which they receive in the form of wages.

So, how does Fairtrade help improve this?

In essence, it’s a way to help companies build strong, reliable, and transparent supply chains for their products, be it coconut milk, coconut oil, or fresh pineapple fruits. It focuses on creating positive and long-term relationships with producers who enforce higher agricultural and employment standards for farmers and workers. The producers have an incentive to do so, too, as they receive extra premiums for Fairtrade products.

Fairtrade certification helps ensure that workers have better working conditions, including the payment of living wages, shorter shifts and more paid breaks, improved health and safety practices, and increased job security. It goes beyond the worker, though, and also helps improve buying practices so that costs and risks are shared fairly among the supply chain, supports market access for small-scale farmers, and encourages more transparent and accountable supply chains so that consumers can find out how the products they’re buying are produced.

The success of the Fairtrade model, however, depends on consumer demand. When prices for conventional pineapple in Europe were slashed several years ago, for example, demand for Fairtrade pineapple — which is more expensive — fell significantly. This resulted in a significant proportion of the Fairtrade fruits being sold as conventional, meaning that the farmers who produced them received no premium.

The 2016 Coconut Impact Report by Fair Trade USA noted that 89% of consumers would like to see more products they use support worthy social and/or environmental issues. Seeking out fair trade brands is one way to know that the money you’re spending supports economic and social development — and that each part of the supply chain that helped get those products to you was treated fairly and equally.

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