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Fair Trade Cotton: Empowering Farmers to Rise Above Poverty

07/20/2010 - 9:18 PM
After much anticipation, apparel and linen products made from Fair Trade CertifiedTM cotton are finally available in the United States! This is great news because cotton farmers in developing countries struggle to compete in the world market due to unstable prices and limited access. They are also plagued with issues such as the use of hazardous agrochemicals and are often not aware of sustainable, healthier alternatives. zameen-organic-cotton-india To address these problems, Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO) established a set of standards for seed cotton that farms must comply with in order to be Fair Trade Certified. The idea is that Fair Trade should empower producer organizations and enable sustainable social and economic development in their communities. Organizations are required to implement a democratic management structure that enables greater control by the cotton farmers.  The functions of the organization must be transparent-that is, members must be able to access information about all decisions and transactions. The standards also stress non-discrimination, fair conditions and sustainable practices. Rigorous environmental standards must be met, including the creation of conservation areas, elimination of agrochemical and genetically modified organisms (GMO), and the use of appropriate waste disposal methods. Freedom of labor, freedom of association and collective bargaining, occupational health and safety regulations and other important rights are mandatory.  Farmers are guaranteed a minimum price that covers the cost of production. Also, the administration and management of Fair Trade Premiums must be clear to all farmers. peru-march-2010-128 Examples of the success of Fair Trade cotton cooperatives can be found in farming communities of rural India. Chetna Organic, launched in 2004, and Zameen Organic, founded in 2006, are both Fair Trade organic cotton initiatives that help farmers improve their lives by providing training on sustainable agriculture and expanding market access.
Zameen has been successful in promoting gender equality. One female leader, Sarale Pottee, from the Adilabad Region in Andhra Pradesh, said "It has been difficult to gain respect from the men, but Zameen has helped me to learn new skills and I know I have the right to hold office with Fair Trade. It shows men that women can do anything just the same as men." Zameen has also worked to increase sustainability of practices, provide farmers with fair prices and premiums, establish a democratic decision-making approach, fund important social programs and improve health and safety conditions.
Chetna fosters the entrepreneurial capacities of farmers and has allowed them to come together and form new initiatives, such as planting profitable vegetable gardens and nurseries. It also stresses the importance of a democratic management system, forming farmer cooperatives to ensure oversight of production and selling processes. When Chetna farmers were asked about Fair Trade, they agreed that it is "a transparent mechanism of trading with no exploitation from buyers or sellers." The incorporation of Fair Trade standards at the cotton fields has meant that farmers' lives have been improved substantially-health hazards are preventable, children's futures are brighter, the burden of debt has been relieved and much more.  Fair Trade cotton farmers selling to Europe have seen about a 30 percent increase in earnings. They are empowered and enabled to expand the scope of their work so they can be more profitable and can invest in short and long-term projects that fulfill basic needs in their communities. TransFair USA is proud to have launched Fair Trade Certified apparel in the United States, empowering millions of Americans to support cotton farmers with the clothes we wear and enhancing the benefits of Fair Trade for thousands of cotton farmers.  Our program also supports factory workers at the other end of the supply chain.  Stay tuned for a second blog post about the benefits that Fair Trade provides for factory workers.
07/20/2010 - 9:18 PM
07/20/2010 - 9:18 PM