Fair Trade Crafts » Blog » Recent SOAS study on Fair Trade causes concern

A recent four year study by London’s School of Oriental and African Studies has sent ripples of concern across Fair Trade networks. The study (here) suggested that in some cases workers on Fair Trade farms (coffee, tea and flower), particularly women, could be “significantly worse paid, and treated” than those on non Fairtrade farms. The Fairtrade Foundation countered that the report’s conclusions were flawed. CEO Michael Gidney states:

… the Foundation believes there are significant flaws in this study and that it is wrong to state that Fairtrade does not improve the lives of the poor.  Many independent academic studies have shown that Fairtrade does benefit poor farmers and workers supplying international markets. 

In particular, the SOAS study failed to find Fairtrade certified farms for half of its research sites (Table 2:1, page 31), making a balanced comparison between Fairtrade and non-Fairtrade systems impossible.  For example, researchers looked at only one of five Fairtrade certified smallholder tea producer organisations in Uganda.  Many of these are selling higher proportions of their tea on Fairtrade terms – a study of a different organisation might well have reached very different conclusions. 

The full response can be found here.

Christopher Cramer, one of the report’s authors, said however;

“Wages in other comparable areas and among comparable employers producing the same crops but where there was no Fairtrade certification were usually higher and working conditions better. In our research sites, Fairtrade has not been an effective mechanism for improving the lives of wage workers, the poorest rural people.”

Researchers collected detailed information on more than 1,500 people and stated that they also found evidence of the widespread use of children being paid to work on farms growing produce for Britain’s leading ethical label.

Fair Trade Crafts feel very strongly that a direct, close relationship between producer and buyer is vital, it’s important that we all examine this report closely and ensure that if there are problems, they are addressed.

We’re careful to ensure that our suppliers know who they are dealing with and what the benefits are to the community and the workers. They buy from small scale producers and in developing markets, such as Nepal, Indonesia and Thailand, deal with only primary producers and  travel to see them several times a year.

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