Since December 15th, when Bloomberg wrote an article on forced child labour in Burkina Faso (Victoria’s Secret Revealed in Child Picking Burkina Faso Cotton), there have been press releases, investigations and editorials with further information released about the journalist Cam Simpson's investigation. Bloomberg's Editorial response to investigations by Limited Brands and Fairtrade International came on Friday, January 14th. The following Monday I emailed Fairtrade International:
On January 19th, I received a reply from Reykia Fick, Media Relations Manager of Fairtrade International:
A second example of Western governments perpetuating poverty in poor nations is banning the purchase of Burkina Faso cotton in an already artificially low market. To eliminate trade with countries where use of child labour is socially acceptable and a regular occurrence further isolates the victims and perpetuates the practice since no other paradigm exists to counter the existing norm. According to the Bloomberg Editorial Child Labor for Victoria’s Secret Cotton Examined by U.S.:
When Fair Trade is integrated with a Rights-Based Approach it seeks to go to the root of a problem. Conventional trade has no such objectives, seldom considers the social or environmental consequences of trade, and does not consider the rights of producers; conventional trade concentrates on the profits to be made and the logistics to expedite the deal.
In contrast to maximizing profits, the other extreme is a U.S. government regulation banning all trade in cotton with Burkina Faso due to the common practice of child labour in the impoverished nation. Banning trade only serves to deepen the existing poverty and provides an additional rational for the dehumanizing practice; it doesn't provide any opportunity or model for change.
I applaud Victoria's Secret for stepping in this direction with Fairtrade International. One of the purposes of the global Fair Trade Movement is to bring to the surface the need for trade justice by challenging the Business as Usual model; to get corporations to reflect on their existing practices and consider the social and environmental impacts their business dealings have on the producers of the commodities they need; clearly Victoria's Secret has taken a step in this direction. For this Victoria's Secret gets a Bronze star in Fair Trade. If they use a majority of Fair Trade organic cotton in their products they get a Silver star, and for 100% a Gold star! (This Fair Trade Rating idea courtesy of Nick Savaidis of Etiko Fairtrade in Australia)
Whether or not the Bloomberg article with it's accusations of child labour on Fair Trade certified farms is true or not, and regardless if Clarisse's real age is 13 or 21, there is a valuable lesson to be learned here.
According to a 2008 impact study by the University of Berne, Organic Cotton Changes Producers' Lives: Impact study on organic and Fairtrade cotton in Burkina Faso, "the average conventional yield is 1,100kg/ha, whereas organic cotton reaches 675kg/ha, although elite organic farmers can potentially push yields above 1,000kg/ha. The factors limiting yields are the choice of marginal zones and plots of land, the lower productivity of new producers and women, and stricter quality criteria for organic cotton."
A calculation here is quite simple with one harvest per year: The average conventional yield is 1,100kg/ha and the average family according to UNCTAD grows cotton on one hectare:
Organic Fairtrade Cotton in Burkina Faso
The Helvetas impact study above provides insight to the effect Fairtrade has for farmers in 2008:
Contrary to a widespread belief, organic production requires 23% less hours of work in the fields than conventional production. 30% of these are worked by non-family members in the form of mutual aid. However, organic farmers spend more time preparing compost. Nevertheless, farmers’ accounts of the advantages of organic production confirm that organic production requires less effort, especially since there is no pesticide spraying.
The gross profit per hectare of cotton is identical in organic and conventional farms. This is due to the lower organic yield being made up for by a higher price, i.e. 272 CFA/kg for organic cotton instead of 165 CFA/kg for conventional cotton. Organic farmers spend 90% less on inputs and this results in their gross margin being 30% better than for conventional production.
Moreover, the lower cost of inputs also puts some in a more relaxed state of mind, as Yamdare Kaboré, an organic producer from Tenkodogo, testifies:
We should also note that the organic producer organisations receive a so-called Fairtrade premium of € 0.05/kg of seed cotton that they can use for community projects. This is generally invested in buildings that are partly used as schools, followed by boreholes for drinking water. Along with cotton, the producers can also sell products such as sesame, shea nuts and hibiscus on favourable terms, enabling them to earn some extra income.
The study reports a more positive perception of human health as well as animal and soil health since organic production started, and this is confirmed by the most experienced organic producers. No more chemicals is the main argument – especially for women – along with less hard work. Health is an essential issue in the Sahel, as Idani Célestine, a cotton producer in Fada, testifies:
It is true that organic means that people do not have to spray their fields with chemicals up to 6 times, and they also see the rewards of the effort they put into production and transporting compost.
The impact study clearly delineates the benefits to farmers in the project:
- 7,000 producers (men and women) in 2008
- More diversified crop rotations with a higher commercial value
- An opportunity for women to earn an income
- 39% lower yields, but a 65% higher price for the farmer
- 90% less spent on inputs; a 30% higher gross margin
- Less indebtedness from buying inputs
- Farmers consider that both human and livestock health have improved
- Three times more organic manure applied
- Producers have observed a noticeable improvement in soil fertility
When we make a direct comparison between conventional trade and Fair Trade it becomes quite clear there is a need for Fair Trade to become a world standard versus simply an alternative to Business as Usual with the systematic exploitation of people and resources as embraced in conventional trade. However, that isn't going to happen anytime soon...
To this I repeatedly say, "LOCALIZE FAIRTRADE!!!" Currently one of the obstacles faced in Burkina Faso is the dependence on conventional gins, traders, textile mills and garment factories. To localize Fair Trade requires a vision!
With over 7,000 organic Fairtrade cotton producers in the country, the future of Fair Trade is clearly to shift from selling raw materials for export, to value-adding in the locations where the cotton is grown. Imagine Fair Trade cooperatives working towards a common collective goal of raising awareness of Fair Trade locally and nationally while producing high quality products for local, national and regional markets! For the global movement to be sustainable, there needs to be a concerted effort to localizing Fair Trade in the Global South! In this model of localizing Fair Trade, we can progressively work towards ending social acceptance of forced child labour in the 21st century.
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