Last week I visited a farm in Nicaragua participating in our coffee pilots to bring the benefits of Fair Trade to coffee pickers and other farm workers. As part of the new standards we are testing in this pilot, the farm workers have democratically elected a Fair Trade committee. The committee in this farm includes coffee pickers and other farm workers who will work with farm managers in Fair Trade issues, but only farm workers vote on the decisions of the Fair Trade committee. The main roles for the committee for the first year include:
- To identify the primary needs of the workers at the farm along with the other workers on the farm and with support from the farm management. The members of the committee will need to talk with the other workers from all of the different towns where workers come from and create a list of the main needs. For example, this may include not having enough access to running water or not having electricity all day long. Those needs will be prioritized by the workers themselves
- Once the needs are assessed, the Fair Trade committee will create a plan (the Fair Trade premium plan) that will describe specific objectives to be achieved to address the needs identified in the needs assessment. The Fair Trade plan will include what actions the workers and the farm will take to address those needs. For example, they could plan to use the Fair Trade premium to implement a water project that will bring running water to workers’ homes
- The Fair Trade committee will implement that plan. The committee’s actions have to be approved and guided by all the farm workers on the farm
- The Fair Trade committee is a key point of contact in day-to-day communications about Fair Trade issues. They will discuss Fair Trade issues and progress with the rest of the workers, management and with us
I recently met with the workers committee at this farm to answer questions about Fair Trade and to learn more from them about how the work is going on this farm. They shared their first ideas for future community development programs once the farm gets certified and sells some coffee, allowing the workers receive some Fair Trade premium:
- Water projects so workers have access to running potable workers in their homes. Right now, several workers use a common fountain to capture water and bring it home.
- Latrines so workers can upgrade their existing latrines and, hopefully, one day actually be able to install bathrooms in their homes
- A nursery so more female workers can work and all workers are sure their little ones are safe while they are out in the field
Right now the committee members are talking with all workers as part of the needs assessment process to understand which ideas they should prioritize. Later on, once (if) the farm is certified and once sales actually happen, the workers will be able to implement the projects that would help them to address their needs.
Fair Trade sales need to happen for the workers to have premium to use. That is how you and I as coffee consumers can help make a difference. We need to make sure that the workers that picked the coffee we consume were paid a fair wage, worked in safe conditions and were not exposed to hazardous chemicals. We need to demand that their lives are also improving through their work producing high quality coffee. It is not only up to the farmers who pay these workers to do their part; as consumers, we need to do our part as well by purchasing coffee that is not only of high quality, but that improves the livelihoods of the farmers and workers who produced it.