by Michael Cakmes, Business Development Manager - Produce
Some members of our team recently traveled to Colombia to visit banana farms in order to increase the supply of Fairtrade bananas in the US. Michael Cakmes recounts part of the journey and what Fairtrade means to him.
Last month, my team and I visited Colombian banana farmers and workers at both Small Producer Organizations (i.e. cooperatives) and Hired Labor Organizations (i.e. plantations). Our goal was to meet the people and communities we represent every day, learn how the Fairtrade system works for them, and hopefully use this to increase the supply of Fairtrade bananas in the US. The week-long journey offered compelling and inspiring stories of how small producers and laborers were uplifted, and communities empowered through Fairtrade.
Colombia's turbulent banana history
Although the producers we visited are now experiencing the benefits of Fairtrade; for many Colombians, banana trade is known for a long history of inequalities, some of which still exist today. From the earliest banana supply chains set in motion by The United Fruit Company, now Chiquita, there have been abuses throughout the system. In 1928, the Colombian banana massacre took the lives of 3,000 men, women and children. Workers were protesting for basic labor rights such as 8-hour work days, 6-day work weeks and written labor contracts. The US and Colombian governments characterized this protest as a communist regime and killed all who threatened the status quo. Nearly a century later, there are still signs of multinational fruit companies desire to control land, economic power and social structures.
Through the collective efforts of farmers and the Fairtrade International system, we work to reduce these long-standing injustices and put the power back into the hands of the growers. The respect and dignity that the Fairtrade system imbues to its producers and workers allows them to envision a world where they can earn a sustainable livelihood and can shape their own futures.
How Fairtrade works for workers like Fredys
On this trip, I was privileged to meet Fredys Cuesta Garcia who works on a banana farm in Uraba, Colombia. You wouldn't know that this father of two worked outside all day due to his youthful appearance! His hard work is paying off too - he was elected by his peers to represent all Fairtrade banana workers in Latin America, one of the highest positions within Fairtrade in the region. Not only has Fredys benefited from Fairtrade professionally, he is also on his way towards putting his two kids through school, due in part to the funds provided by the Fairtrade Premium - the extra money added to each Fairtrade sale. The Fairtrade Premium is democratically voted on by all workers, who collectively decide how to spend it. With Fairtrade, Fredys also expects fair wages, safe working conditions and freedom of association to join a union, if he so chooses.
Each stop on our trip in the Magdalena and Uraba regions provided a unique perspective of how the farmers or workers - the beneficiaries of the Fairtrade Premium - chose to invest their money. We visited teenagers who danced and sang at a cultural program, spoke with kids who were having a school built for them, and toured houses being built for banana workers. These programs were open to all in the community, not just the families of Fairtrade farmers and workers.
This was by far the most impactful part of the trip.
I wonder - do my purchases matter?
As a conscious consumer, I often find myself questioning the impact of purchasing just one Fairtrade banana. I’m skeptical of the significance that one small farm can provide to its community. I’m skeptical of how the benefits of Fairtrade can influence governments to foster the environment required to drive living wage. Yet, at the end of the trip, I was reassured to see how paying just $0.03 more for your banana can impact the lives of thousands of people.