Fairtrade Foundation assists cocoa farmers operating amid coronavirus

Fairtrade International has confirmed a plan to increase flexibility in its standards to enable producer organisations to help protect farmers working within the cocoa sector amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Though the pandemic has yet to majorly impact upon many areas of Africa, concerns have been expressed by observers over the potential effects upon key territories including Ghana and Ivory Coast, which supply global confectionery manufacturers.

‘Many farmers and agricultural workers in the global south are already beginning to feel the economic effects of Covid-19, although in many cases the health impacts are still to be seen,’ said Gelkha Buitrago, Fairtrade International’s Director of Standards and Pricing.

‘The new guidance we have just approved makes it possible for Fairtrade certified producer organisations to make decisions and act quickly on things that will keep farmers and workers safe, or provide needed extra income during this uncertain time.’

Endorsed by the Fairtrade Standards Committee last week, the new guidance applies to all types of Fairtrade certified producers, from small-scale farmer co-operatives to larger farms with a hired workforce. The guidance either confirms that an existing provision of the Fairtrade Standards has been put into effect, or explains a change to the existing Standards.

The new guidance confirms that producer organisations can spend Fairtrade Premium funds more flexibly to minimise the spread of disease, such as by purchasing and distributing face masks or other personal protective equipment, or by implementing hygiene campaigns. The Fairtrade Premium is an extra sum on top of selling price that producer organisations earn on every Fairtrade sale, and invest in projects of their choice to benefit their businesses and communities. Fairtrade producers earned more than €187 million in Premium in 2018.

Producer organisations can also now make faster decisions on spending Premium funds on the Covid-19 response. Organisations can take action without waiting for approval at their required annual General Assembly meetings, and will instead document expenditures for retroactive ratification.

In hired labour organisations, whose employees are likely to be hardest hit by loss of sales or inability to harvest, the worker-run Fairtrade Premium Committees may distribute up to 100% of their Fairtrade Premium funds as direct cash distributions to workers, effective through 30 September 2020.

This is an increase from the usual 20%, or 50% in certain circumstancesThe committees do not need to make a formal request to the independent certifier, FLOCERT, to do so. In-kind disbursements of consumable goods are also allowed. This could benefit around 145,000 workers on Fairtrade certified tea and flower plantations, which earned more than €11 million in Fairtrade Premium in 2018.

Fairtrade International provided guidance on the standards changes on Friday to producer organisations. The letter also called on organisations, particularly those employing workers, to continue to respect fundamental rights and freedoms, to continue paying workers including those required to self-isolate, and to enable workers to keep appropriate safe distance from each other while performing tasks, among other things.

Fairtrade certified producers should refer to the World Health Organisation guidelines and their own national mandates for health and safety. Producers can direct questions about the Fairtrade Standards or the latest guidance to their local FLOCERT contact, or their regional Fairtrade producer network.

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