Friday, 7 March 2014

Two out of three ain’t bad… but there’s room for improvement

The concept of fairness is hard to define but easy to recognise when it’s missing. Being fair is often spoken of as part of our character. Research from the University of Nottingham published back in 2008 argued it’s down to our national culture rather than our genes.

Maybe that’s the reason why the Fairtrade movement is so strong in Britain. The WI is one of the founder members of the Fairtrade Foundation, which has just celebrated its 20th anniversary with Fairtrade Fortnight, which will end this Sunday. The concept of fairness is a common thread throughout WI campaigns, and the WI remains behind the vision of a world in which fairness and sustainable development are at the heart of trade.

Only two years ago WI members were fighting hard for British dairy farmers. ‘Farmers squeezed as price war erupts’, ‘Price cuts threaten farms’, ‘Famers need fair trade protection’ – these were the headlines as farmers struggled with price cuts from supermarkets that put unsustainable pressure on the already squeezed dairy supply chain. WI members backed our call for a Fair Deal for Farmers and processors and farmers agreed to a voluntary deal in the summer of 2012.

The problems the dairy farmers face here are not unique – they blight other supply chains and products from all over the world. The Fairtrade Foundation has introduced us to Foncho, a banana farmer from Columbia. His life and livelihood, and that of thousands of other farmers just like him, has been changed by Fairtrade. Just like British farmers, the WI is sticking with Foncho because at the heart of the WI movement is the powerful concept of fairness.

Together we’ve achieved a huge amount since the first Fairtrade bananas appeared on our shelves in 2000. Today, one in three bananas in the UK is Fairtrade. While this is certainly something to cheer about there are still serious problems at the heart of the banana business which have a devastating impact on the tens of thousands of farmers and workers that grow the UK’s favourite fruit. A fruit that 13 million Brits eat every single day.

We buy most of our bananas from major supermarkets, and while three major supermarkets have committed to selling only Fairtrade bananas, the highly-competitive and public price war between supermarkets have prevented progress towards making the whole banana industry fair and left the poorest people bearing the cost of the UK’s cheap bananas.

In ten years, the average price UK shoppers pay for a banana has halved, but the production costs have doubled. The cost of living for banana farmers has greatly increased (by 350% in the case of the Dominican Republic). The situation is trapping farmers and workers in poverty and stopping them accessing education or healthcare, despite bananas being one of the most valuable agriculture trade commodities in the world. Doesn’t sound fair, does it? And it doesn’t have to be this way – the Foundation’s research shows this price reduction has not occurred in other EU countries, who buy bananas from similar sources and incur similar costs in shipping and distribution.

The Make Bananas Fair campaign is calling for a better deal for all banana farmers and workers. All producers should receive the true cost of sustainable production and all farmers and workers should receive decent conditions and a living wage.

WIs have shown their support for Foncho during Fairtrade Fortnight. The Brentwood Belles recently become one of the newest Fairtrade WIs. Forestgate WI hosted Barbara Crowther from the Fairtrade Foundation to talk about the role of women in Fairtrade food production. And Catford WI celebrated with a fairtrade chocolate tasting event, teaming up the chocolate with different beers.

How can you help make bananas fair? The Fairtrade Foundation is asking the UK public to sign their petition: Put your name next to Foncho’s to ask the government to investigate the market with a look at retailer pricing. And of course, buy Fairtrade! Send a sign to the supermarkets that we value our food and the people who grow it, and that supermarkets should too. Because at the moment, two out of three ain’t bad. But there’s room for improvement so let’s not stop here.

Further information

The Fairtrade Foundation has produced a scorecard examining the efforts of the UK’s major supermarkets:

International Women's Day (Saturday 8th March)

International Women’s Day (IWD) is an opportunity for women across the world to celebrate their achievements at all levels of society in campaigning for gender equality. It is also an opportunity for the NFWI to recognise the enormous contribution of WI members and all other women across the world in fighting for equality.

Since 1915 WI members have campaigned on significant issues for women and communities with great success. The WI, for example, had a big impact on the struggle for women’s rights at the beginning of the 20th Century by helping women to become active citizens in the years straight after women received the vote. WI members have also been actively engaged with issues affecting millions of lives across the globe such as HIV and AIDS.

IWD is also a time to reflect on the barriers that are preventing us from achieving gender equality. One in four women in Wales will experience domestic violence at the hands of a partner during their lives and 150,000 women in Wales will suffer some form of gender-based violence. As early as June 1943, the WI passed a resolution that men and women should receive equal pay for equal work yet women continue to be fighting for equal pay. Between 1919 and 1925, WI members were discussing the importance of women standing for election to local councils and supporting the appointment of women to public posts. However, currently only 26% of local government councillors in Wales are female and women continue to be under-represented on our public bodies today. We all have a role in empowering and supporting women in our communities to get involved in public life to ensure that women’s voices are represented at all levels of decision-making.

On 8 March, the Women Making a Difference project, hosted by NFWI-Wales, will be holding its annual Women’s Summit in Cardiff bringing together hundreds of women to celebrate the important role of women in society and to also explore, during roundtable discussions, the barriers that need to be addressed such as the perception of women in the media, women and technology and educating for equality.

Further information is available at