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     Fair Trade and Environmental Protection
Add Time :2009-09-08      Hits:5043

Fair Trade and Environmental Protection

By Professor Yang Fangyi of Social Resources Institute


Fair Trade and Environmental Protection


    Coffee will be in mind of people who are familiar with Fair Trade when they talk about it. Under the free trade, when you pay 20 RMB for a cup of coffee in Starbucks, the farmers who plant the coffee bean in their field just gain less than 0.1RMB and Most of the profit obtained by the coffee producers and retailers. What’s more, the farmers in Ethiopia are cheering for the coming harvest, but their income is decreasing because the price of coffee is going down; basically, nearly 15 million people rely on coffee bean’s planting for living. As a result Fair Trade, a comparing trading form with free trade, appears in Europe in1950s. So far, Fair Trade has gained many supporters and consumers around the world.  

Fatal Weakness of Free Trade

    Presently, free trade is still the general trend. Specialization of division of labor makes the industry chain longer and longer. More and more parts take place between the supplier and consumer. On the one hand, the profit of product has been divided by many steps and there is not much left to farmers. On the other hand, due to the lack of information, the planter and collector become the lowest part of industry chain as well as this kind of injustice information leads to social and environmental issues. When you enjoy your fried chicken in KFC, you might not realize that they have to cut down a large amount of rain forest for planting soybean in tropical rain forest areas of Amazon. The soybean is used for chicken farming at last. As a result of that, the customers become “the terminators” who “kill” the tropical rainforest. Coffee is facing the same problem and few people have a view of the background of Starbucks coffee and the same injustice situation creates serious environmental issue.

    People who sink into the vicious circle are struggling with their lives. In India, ignorant farmers gave up their traditional planting method and adopt the seeds, pesticide or fertilizer of Monsanto or other international companies. The price of these agricultural materials rise up urgently when the farmers have to rely on those products of companies. At last, farmers’ income cannot afford their living output and this is also the reason why many Indian farmers suicide in recent years. However, Fair Trade shortens the distance between the lowest parts of industry chain with the consumers and let the first supplier gain more from trade and achieve the sustainable development.

The Prosperity of Fair Trade

    Well-known Fair Trade Movement is comparing with the unequal international trade, which emphasizes on the balance of income division, gender equality and environmental protection in trade. In the beginning, Fair Trade just was a small-scale movement but now, it becomes a global movement and many relative authentication systems show up. The most famous systems are from Fair Trade Labelling Organizations International (IFO) and International Fair Trade Association (IFTA). Products can be labeled after they are authenticated. After that, they will get in European market and achieve a better selling profit. Besides this advantage, Fair Trade can bring funds with organizing and skill contribution to community. In 2003, Fair Trade commodities simultaneously join in the markets of 13 nations in Europe. It means that Fair Trade has begun to develop from a social movement to a general form of business. According to a statistic record of FLO in 2007, the international selling of commodities that have been authenticated by FLO reaches 2.3 billion euro; 1.5million workers of 58 nations reap profit from that. Currently, you may find Fair Trade products in every supper market in Europe or Fair Trade shops in the big cities of Asia. From agricultural products like coffee, rice and flowers to handicrafts, the categories are becoming rich and even though some Fair Trade commodities are more expensive than normal commodities, customers are prefer to buy them. Excitingly, though, Fair Trade movement is a pure folk activity, it has achieved the support from European parliament and German government. From 2000, departments of European government have been starting to purchase the tea and coffee that have been authenticated by Fair Trade. Thus we can see the market of Fair Trade will be considerable.    

Observe environmental protection in Chinese hilly area with an angle of international industry chain.

    China is getting involved in globalization, even the peasants from the far hilly areas. China is becoming the important producer and consumer in international trade. Compare with the richer role of customer; there still have many peasants who will be recognized as figure producer in southwest forest regions of China. Many of their agricultural and forest production take part in the international trade. For instance, in the southwest areas of China named “hot spot of international biodiversity protection”, lots of products of non-timber forest will be exported around the world. Meanwhile, the domestic sale substantially relies on the international company like Carrefour. 

    In the southwest hilly areas, most of the farmers who live along the forest collect the non-timber products like mushrooms, spice and medicine etc. beside the usual planting and animal raising. There is one kind of mushroom named Song Rong (Tricholoma matsutake) in the northwest of Yunnan province. It usually will be exported to Japan and it becomes the main source of cash of the local farmers. In the summer when the hot season of harvest comes, farmers will go up to the mountains to collect the mushrooms. One of my friends remember that Song Rong’s price was quite nice in1990s and she just need to go to pick one big piece of the mushroom once a week and that could afford her daily cost for one semester of her middle school. Scholars investigated before in these areas and nearly 80 percent cash income of the local residences is from Song Rong. In recent years, the purchasing price of Song Rong has been changing by the global market fiercely and this makes effect on the mushroom collection. However, Song Rong, as wild specie, it takes a very important function in forest ecosystem maintaining. Excessive collection will degrade the quality of forest and then lower the mushroom’s quality; finally, farmers cannot get reasonable profit from it.

    Just like Song Rong, many products make effect on environmental protection. For example, the Pu’er Tea, which has a serious speculation problem in its market. And quite large amounts of old tea tress have been cut down. The only one solution is the Fair Trade in which we have a fair market with a more stable and shorter sales chain.   

Fair Trade in China

    It is not very long since Fair Trade concept is adopted in China. Meanwhile, with the increase of Chinese total supply and demand, more rich people born and China no longer plays a single role of producer as well as a consumer. The behaviors of purchase of Chinese start to have influence with the whole world. So that it is more urgent to develop Fair Trade in China. On one hand, we need Fair Trade to promote Chinese commodities to European market and on the other hand, as for Chinese huge consumption market, we need to have our own Fair Trade market.

    In the beginning, Fair Trade was started firstly in China by Oxfam Hong Kong and other NGOs; and it realizes the Fair Trade and the authentication system. Moreover, some Chinese tea companies broke into the European and American markets by authentication of FLO. Anyway, this is the start level of Fair Trade in China because on one side Chinese farmers are not very clear about Fair Trade as well as the authentication system; as a result, few people applied the authentication of FLO so far. On the other side, the authentication systems of FLO or other organizations are too academic to Chinese farmers in hilly areas such as the social gender and villager’s collective group etc. Those are unsuitable for Chinese farmers in rural areas. Besides, most of the domestic consumer doesn’t know anything about the Fair Trade. This is a “blind spot” in sales market of China.    
    However, although, there is few commodities have been authenticated by international Fair Trade organization we have many domestic activities that are quite similar with Fair Trade. There is one case of the attempt action by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Carrefour. For protecting the wild panda habitats, WWF and Carrefour working in partnership to sell the Chinese pepper and honey etc. in Carrefour’s stores and those products are from the areas where WWF has projects. Especially, after the earthquake, WWF and Carrefour organized the Chinese Pepper Festival,
Sichuan to sell the pepper and other agricultural products in their stores to support the reconstruction. The customers are wiling to contribute through buying and get information from the disaster area. As we can see, Fair Trade has great development potential even under today when the public is focusing on the environment; Fair Trade should has a reasonable market and does better service to environmental protection.  

    Obviously, China should have her own Fair Trade authentication rule or system because China has very splendid consuming market. More and more people start to think about Chinese Fair Trade standard and they hope they can get the environmental protection, the protection of villagers’ rights and trade together to promote Fair Trade service for society. 

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