December 3, 2010

the “fair go” office – (3) Fair Trade tea & coffee

In our design business we have a principle which we call fair go. We believe a “fair go” should be given to the world we live in, and people in developing countries who are struggling to make a crust also deserve a fair go.

In developed (rich) countries like Australia we usually don’t realise the impact we have on poor people in other countries. We demand fair wages for the work we do and rightly so. At the same time we want to pay the bare minimum for the products we buy, not usually thinking where they came from, as long as they’re cheap. In many cases we are indirectly exploiting some of the world’s most disadvantaged people, including children. (You’ll have to excuse me if I get a bit fired up on this subject.)

Take something as simple as the morning tea break you have at work. You leave your desk, fire up the kettle, spoon in some coffee and have a chat while you wait for the whistle. No one gives a thought where the coffee comes from. But in the time you wait for the kettle to boil you may have just earned more money than the daily wage of the person who hand sorted through every single coffee bean to grade its quality!

Ah, but good sir, I drink tea not coffee … Hmm have you ever seen pictures of hunched ladies picking giant baskets of tea while the wealthy landowner and his sons sit on the verandah of their estate sipping a steaming brew from china cups? Well, some may say, boo hoo to the wealthy, exploiting landowner, but is it really my problem? I’m not the one ripping those people off.

Well that’s the point of Fair Trade products. When we demand the cheapest version of a product without raising any questions as to its manufacture or origin, who is going to be exploited … not the landowner I know that much! They won’t tolerate a paycut anymore than we would. The truth is it’ll be the people at the bottom of the chain who suffer, the ones who have no choices and no bargaining power. They take whatever wage is on offer or they go hungry.

Consider nearly everybody’s favourite food … chocolate! The word literally means ‘food of the gods’. At revive we have chocolate in our studio instead of biscuits because we like it better. Did you know that 70% of the world’s cocoa is harvested in Africa. Criminal networks are reported to be kidnapping and trafficking children into the cocoa farms, forcing them to work long days in dangerous conditions. Children as young as six have been reported to work 12-14 hours a day with no pay, no education, little food and frequent beatings.

If you thought slavery was a nasty thing of the past, then think again. If you are eating any chocolate that doesn’t have the fair trade logo on the packet then there is every chance you are eating chocolate harvested by child slaves.

So why not have a look at what you eat for morning tea and see if it has the fair trade (or ethical trade) badge.

We buy fair trade tea, coffee and chocolate at ALDI stores for the same cost, or less, than the stuff we used to get. These symbols simply mean that the product was manufactured in a way that supported its workers with fair wages and working conditions. I don’t think any business would even notice the difference in their bottom line by making this simple change but it makes a big differnce to people at the other end.

See my other posts for more ideas on this topic …

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fair go!