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    Day of Action in support of Fairtrade cocoa farmers

    Thursday, 1 October 2020  |  Joanna

    Day of Action in support of Fairtrade cocoa farmers

    KitKats in the UK and Ireland have borne the Fairtrade mark for ten years. For a decade cocoa and sugar farmers in Cote d'Ivoire, Malawi and Fiji have been able to rely on the additional benefits of selling their crops to Nestle on Fairtrade terms.  As one of the world's largest corporations Nestle is the sort of buyer you want to find if you are a smallholder farmer. But such an important and powerful customer can be a double edged sword. You can band together with other farmers but you will never have the same power as a multinational like Nestle.

    Being able to sell a substantial amount of their crops at a guaranteed minimum price, and with a generous community premium with guaranteed democratic decision making is a big deal for farmers. Fairtrade is 50% owned by farmers, meaning they have a real say in the running of the organisation and a seat at the table. This gives people power and choices. 

    Chocolate only grows in West Africa because of colonialism. It's a plant native to central and South America, but the British in Ghana and the French in Cote d'Ivoire quickly realised they could plant it in their colonies with a plentiful supply of cheap labour to cultivate it and it became widespread. My friend Bruce Crowther tells the story of a Ghanaian cocoa farmer who was struggling to feed his hungry family but knew that cocoa prices were too low to cover his costs. He was hanging onto his crop in the hope the price went up. Bruce asked him why he didn't eat some of the cocoa, or give some to his children. The chap looked sadly at Bruce and said "It's not mine. It belongs to the British." 

    So there's a strong moral argument, linked to the Black Lives Matter movement, that companies and consumers in the global north owe it to cocoa farmers to make a real attempt to improve their lives. Fairtrade is the gold standard for this and in the many conversations I've had with some of the affected cocoa farmers their message has come through loud and clear. They are proud to be Fairtrade certified farmers, and want to carry on selling their cocoa on Fairtrade terms. They even made this video for me to help explain what it means to them.


    But despite 284,000 people signing my petition (see it here) and a further 20,000 signing a parallel petition organised by the Co-operative Party, Nestle hasn't changed its mind. The cocoa farmers who are selling to Nestle will now get a lower premium, less say in how it's spent and no guarantee that the price of their cocoa will not drop below the cost of production. Above all they're disappointed that they feel this decision was taken without proper consultation. One of the things I'm most proud of is that I convinced Nestle to talk to the RICE network - the farmers who made the video. There are ongoing discussions between Nestle and RICE and they're cautiously optimistic about getting better terms, albeit not as good as Fairtrade.

    So when I hand in the petition this morning at Nestle's York premises, I'll be reading a poem I created out of some of the comments people left explaining why they're signing. We've asked Fairtrade supporters to help us make a video of the poem which you'll find below and which we're hoping will go viral.

    We're also hoping our hashtag #IStandWithFarmers will trend on Twitter on Thursday 1 October so if you are on Twitter, please head over there and show your support. There's a poster you can print out and put in your window. You can take a photo or selfie, posting on Twitter using the hashtag, or use it however you like. 

    We're asking people to change their Facebook cover photo for the day - or longer if they can, and share the video, which you can find on our Facebook page.

    You can download all the materials you need to take part from the Fairtrade Yorkshire website.

    So please join in our Day of Action on Thursday 1 October, keep choosing to buy Fairtrade chocolate and show your support for Fairtrade farmers by saying "I Stand With Farmers"

    Update: The Day of Action was amazing. Thousands of people viewed our video, celebrities including Nick Hewer and Melissa Helmsley tweeted their support for the campaign and the BBC ran the story on their website. 

    The petition was mentioned by MPs Holly Lynch, Jason McCartney, Stuart Grady and Rachael Maskell who are members of the APPG on Fairtrade, on Wednesday night in the House of Commons.

    You can read a blog on the Fairtrade Yorkshire website about the whole day but in the meantime here are some of the photos: