As important as it is to buy fair trade products to support fair trade farmers and mission-driven brands, it is also important to engage in advocacy for policy change and to understand the broader issues that affect farmers and workers. There are many policies that affect agriculture and trade and can lead to or inhibit a just economy. Examples include trade agreements such as NAFTA or the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), domestic policies like the Farm Bill, regulation of corporation that allow or restrict a company’s ability to exploit farmers, “invest” in foreign land rightfully owned by local smallholders, or apply practices that contribute to climate change, and workplace related policies such as local and national minimum wage laws.
While buying fair trade products give immediate support to fair trade farmers and artisans, here are just a few good reasons to advocate for fair policies and practices as well:
- US domestic agriculture policy, led by the Farm Bill, has included billions of dollars in subsidies for US farmers, notably cotton farmers. This makes it difficult for small-scale cotton farmers in the Global South to compete and support their families, even under fair trade terms.
- After NAFTA, hundreds of thousands of corn farmers in Mexico lost their land as cheap corn flooded the market. Once land is lost, it is difficult to regain, and these former farmers no longer have the opportunity to organize as fair trade farmers. Fairer trade policies allow more farmers to stay on their land to begin with. Other policies, such as land reform policies, may be needed to reverse damage done by past policy mistakes as a prerequisite to more sustainable farmers entering the fair trade system.
- A recent report indicates that if 10,000 small and mid-sized farms converted to organic, sustainable production, they could sequester enough carbon to equal the effect of taking one million cars off the road.
- Another recent report notes that small-scale farmers have access to just 25% of the world’s land, despite growing 70% of the world’s food. Land grabbing threatens access to this small proportion of land and the report concludes food security, especially of the world’s poor, depends on us putting more land back into the hands of smallholders.
Fair trade is only one component of a just economy, focusing on small-scale producers in the Global South, and policy mechanisms may be more effective than voluntary market initiatives in other sectors, for example in ensuring labor rights and living wages for food and apparel workers.
We provide an overview of key issues for some of the policy areas in which we are active.