After receiving the news from FFI concerning this event we immediately thought this might be interesting for our company, Infantium Victoria. The fact that the Forum was supposed to take place in Dakar, Senegal was an added bonus since I never visited a cotton farm before.
Due to safety issues the organization decided to redirect the forum to Paris. Totally understandable and a wise decision given that the day before the Forum in Ivory Coast a number of tourists where under attack.
The day itself started with a morning session during which the different problems and challenges of small cotton producers in West Africa where addressed, followed by a session talking about the context of Fair trade and Organic Fair trade Cotton.
During the day it became clear that we where a mixed group of farmers, cooperative leaders, European government, fair trade international, designers, producers and everything in between.
Most discussed and debated was how to get the great fair trade cotton out of West Africa into the world-market.
Africa unlike India does not have an industry to support it, no mills and dyers, nor manufacturers. Today a big part of the fair trade and organic fair trade cotton does not find its way to the right buyers, ending up being sold as ordinary cotton with all its price consequences.
The advantage of fair trade are clear: women get empowered, educational levels go up, communities are working independent and are self-responsible for their produces. This raises self-esteem.
The growing system for the organic cotton is much healthier than the normal cotton growth, improving the health of the direct workers, but also of the environment. The plants are treated with a long term plan and dedication to keep a fertile soil.
The cotton is of a better quality due to careful selection of the seeds.
The unity and collaboration in the community contribute to the democracy.
The afternoon we divided into two workshops where I choose to sit in the workshop identifying cooperation opportunities for the future.
Since fair trade is the only existing system where everybody knows exactly how much money flows back to the farmers and how much they improved their circumstances, big European companies should consider carrying this label, because its the right thing to do.
Fair trade is only active with regards to Cotton in 7 production countries; Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin, India, Egypt and Kyrgyzstan. Fairtrade made a clear choice to support small communities in countries where the population needs protection from big cooperations since their government is not strong enough to do it on its own yet. They support both Fairtrade and Fairtrade Organic since the organic demands are for some countries totally out of reach at this moment.
During the day I found it especially interesting that nobody avoided the hard subjects, position on child labor; what it means and how to deal with it, the certification process for fair trade being very slow, the farmers who are working according to fair trade guidelines but don’t manage to get their goods sold under the fair trade label.
They where openly discussed and evaluated, actively searching for improvement and change.
One of the tense subjects debated and discussed was child labor.>
In the past Fair trade would immediately eliminate any farm where they saw children on the land. But it is not that black and white.
Children must be able to go to school, receive an education. But in a farmer family, part of education is also learning to read the land, understand the seasons and the life circle of the crop. One can not just ban children all together from the fields. During Summer break and after hours, soft help is, like in any society and family, part of education. Experiments are being executed in communities where the village is all together responsible for the wellbeing and education of the child. And borders are set and explored.
We where invited to a great African lunch at the African Institute and a cocktail after the day of heavy discussions and brainstorms.
Buying fair trade is a sales pitch, it does make consumers feel better about their purchase. But it is also the right thing to do.
We with Infantium Victoria started talks to see how we can contribute