SOS Dairy: British farmers against throwaway prices

This article first appeared on the New Internationalist website on 10 August 2012.

Photo thanks to markhillary.


Fairtrade is typically seen as something done by the West for the ‘developing world’, but a recent crisis in British dairy farming has raised the question of whether a similar concept should apply closer to home.

Since July, a campaign has been gathering pace, led by a coalition of farming organizations including the NFU and the grassroots Farmers for Action (FFA), for a fairer price for milk.

The main message, aimed at milk processors and retailers, is: pay farmers more for each litre of milk they produce. From 1 August 2012, the main companies supplying British retailers were preparing to reduce the price received by farmers to below the cost of production, which is about 30 pence ($ 0.47) per litre.

On 11 July 2012 over 2,000 farmers protested in London. Other actions have included women bathing in milk in town centres and blockades of processing plants in Leeds, Shropshire and Leicestershire.

Public reaction has been largely positive and the #SOS Dairy hashtag has been a common sight on Twitter. A poll last month by YouGov and The Grocer magazine found that an impressive 83 per cent of the public were aware of the farmers’ protests, with 67 per cent thinking they should be paid more, even if it means milk becomes more expensive to buy.

But British framers have been here before. In 2010 there was a similar crisis after the collapse of the Dairy Farmers of Britain co-operative in 2009, and the loss of more than 1,000 jobs. A campaign was started by the newspaper Farmers Guardian calling for Fairtrade for British Dairy Farmers with a 50,000 strong supporting petition.

Lucy Dunne from the World Development Movement (WDM) pointed out in a recent blog: ‘What is interesting in this debate is that supermarkets agreeing to at least meet the cost of production is hailed as a “victory” for farmers.’ She calls for the current dairy campaign to feed into a bigger and more sustainable, global movement.

The Fairtrade Foundation questions whether their mark or something similar is the answer for British farmers. On their website they recognize the obstacles British farmers are facing, but say farmers in developing countries are likely to have less infrastructural support, social security or other ‘safety nets’ available.

Amy Horton, food justice campaigner at WDM says there is a growing movement that supports Fairtrade, as well as food sovereignty. She uses the example of the Cumbria Fairtrade Networkwhich has been promoting ways to align the principles of Fairtrade with supporting local food producers and local markets.

‘Fairtrade has played an important role in strengthening the movement for trade justice,’ says Horton. But she argues that it doesn’t change the structural and political problems in an unjust food system, and will not bring ‘the more radical overhaul of the food system demanded by the movement for food sovereignty’…

Read the rest at the New Internationalist website.

All’s Fair In Sport

First appeared on Ctrl.Alt.Shift on January 20 2011

Fairtrade London is upping the pressure on the 2012 Olympics organisers to make the event the fairest games yet…

As 2012 draws frighteningly closer the organisers of the Olympic Games in London are busy organising all the details of what is set to be an exciting event for world sport.

Aside from all the medal winning, security and transport concerns though the organisers need think about how they can make the games as ethical as possible and part of this is using Fairtrade products.Over the coming weeks catering contracts will be awarded for the 2012 Olympics and Fairtrade London want to remind the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and the sponsors (McDonalds, Cadburys and Coca-Cola) of their Fairtrade commitments and highlight the areas where caterers could do more.
There had previously been commitments made to make all tea, coffee, sugar, bananas and chocolate snacks at the games Fairtrade and Fairtrade London want to make sure there is no backtracking on these promises.

The last Olympic games were held in Beijing, China in 2008 and saw over 11, 000 athletes from over 200 national teams compete to be the best in the world at their sport. There were 43 records broken including the unforgettable sight of Jamaica’s Usain Bolt who looked like he was having a chilled out jog in the park as he went down through the finish line.

London is hoping to top Beijing’s event making the Olympics not only more exciting but also fairer and with more concern for the all the people that make it happen.
Take action by signing the open letter telling Olympic organisers and catering companies to “Source Fairtrade: make every Olympic catering purchase a winning one”.

More information at the Fairtrade London website.

The Great Cotton Stitch Up

First appeared at Ctrl.Alt.Shift on December 6 2010

Money given to help EU and US cotton farmers is ruining the chances of the West African cotton industry and distorting the global cotton market, according to a report released last week by the Fairtrade Foundation called The Great Cotton Stitch Up.

The report focuses on four West African countries referred to as ‘the C-4’ (cotton four): Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali, which all rely on cotton more than any other country to make money from exports.

Although the EU only produces 2% of the world’s cotton, its farmers get subsidies of $2.51 per pound of cotton, which is more than the market price. The US and the EU have spent $31.45 billion over the past nine years, which has led to what Fairtrade calls a ‘dampening down’ of cotton prices and reduced demand for West African cotton.

According to Fairtrade the ‘stitch up’ is that, although cotton is the most used natural fibre in the world, countries where it is cheap to produce remain poor and dependent on aid. the reprt claims this is largely down to subsidies to farmers in richer countries. Cotton should be something that helps lift countries like Chad and Mali, where 40% of the population depend on the cotton industry, out of poverty. Fairtrade says this is more likely to happen if the C-4 are on a level playing field with the EU and the US.

In 2001, the Doha Development Round (DDR), negotiations which aimed to create global trade rules that would simulate growth in opportunity and wealth for developing countries, began. However, little has been achieved over the last decade.

Fairtrade admits that if subsidies were eliminated production would decline in countries like the US, but that it would rapidly expand in other countries like the C-4. This argument could lead to criticisms from the ‘we-look-after-our-own’ brigade: why shouldn’t the EU give an advantage to their own farmers? The answer to this would be that EU and US aid to developing countries could be reduced if Southern countries had more economic independence.

The report accuses the EU and US of taking the easy option: giving aid to countries instead of reforming the systems that keep people trapped in poverty. The document states that the original aims of the Doha Round have been ‘glossed over’. It’s well known that a fundamental power imbalance is one of the major issues in the fight against poverty, but Fairtrade hope that the C-4 coalition will strengthen the position of these countries in global negotiations, along with support from countries like India.

The Indian government came under criticism from the US after its government introduced the Minimum Support Price for its cotton farmers after thousands committed suicide over debt. This is, however, despite the fact that the average Indian government assistance is 15 times less than that given to US farmers.

Fairtrade and eliminating subsidies are not the solution to a fairer global system, but they are a good place to start. The power that certain countries have over others is not only unjust but also unsustainable. Radical and lasting changes need to be made to combat global inequality, but while we are pushing for these to happen, any step towards equality is a good thing.

Words: Amy Hall

Download the full report here.