Last year I joined a remarkable group of individuals working to transform the Fair Trade movement to benefit more of the world’s working poor. I’m on a steep learning curve and will be sharing some of the successes, challenges and my learnings at Fair Trade USA.
In six months I have spent time in Côte D’Ivoire visiting cocoa farmers with leading chocolatiers. Bumped up rocky tracks in Costa Rica to pick coffee with migrant pickers. And eaten fresh pineapple picked minutes before by workers who also built and operate a great community learning center.
The Fair Trade stories are as varied and complex as the 1200 products across 30+ product categories that currently carry the Fair Trade Certified™ label. I’m looking forward to exploring these stories and seeing how the clothes we purchase, the tea we drink, the fish we buy, the chocolate we indulge in and even the soccer balls we kick around can bring positive change to the world.
Earlier this week my wife sent me a photo of a box of pineapples from Whole Foods. These were no ordinary pineapples. They were Fair Trade Certified™ pineapples from a Costa Rican farm I had recently visited. I like a pineapple as much as the next person. But I love these pineapples because I saw firsthand what they mean for the people who harvest and pack them.
Over the past decade, every time one of these pineapples was purchased, a nickel has gone back to the workers who pick and pack these tropical fruits. This nickel is the Fair Trade premium. These workers have been saving their nickels. They had a dream of building a learning center for their community. This community of about 300 workers, earning on average $20 a day, saved more than $600,000 over six years until they could afford to realize their dream. They then hired architects and contractors, navigated government bureaucracy, managed a complex construction project, and finally hired the staff to run the center.
The learning center is remarkable. It offers free classes to the community in everything from adult literacy to computer learning to cosmetology and motorbike mechanics. Adults who never learnt to read or write are taking classes and graduating from school. It provides a place that community elders can socialize with friends while working on traditional crafts. And a beautiful futsal court that is the pride of the region.
These pineapple workers are not just farm laborers. Through the power of Fair Trade they have become social entrepreneurs running a complex community business. And it is all made possible through those Fair Trade Certified™ pineapples!