In Fairtrade Fortnight it’s great to see all the media coverage about the difference that buying Fairtrade products can make. But I’ve also noticed some articles casting doubts on whether Fairtrade is an effective way of tackling poverty. Fairtrade has added its views to the debate but I was keen to hear from someone who had first hand experience of visiting Fairtrade producers.
So I contacted Jenny Foster, Fairtrade co-ordinator for Bristol who visited the Philippines last year, to hear her story – it turned out that our children are in the same class at the same school. It’s certainly a small travelling world!
The Bicol area of the Philippines that Jenny visited is a mecca for divers and for climbers who visit the active volcane Mt Mayon. Jenny was able to get off the tourist trail and see what life was like for the people living there.
Jenny – how did you come to be visiting the Philippines?
I’ve been a Traidcraft rep for 13 years now and to celebrate my 40th birthday, I’d booked on a Meet the people tour with Traidcraft. The Philippines seemed such a beautiful country, and when the tour fell through I decided to contact APFTI, the Fairtrade organisation in the Philippines directly, and they offered to host my trip to visit Fairtrade producers.
What were your first impressions of the Philippines?
The women spoke of their pride that their handicrafts were now making a substantial contribution to the family income, so they could afford for their children to stay on at school longer – some were even able to go on to study at college, which was unheard of before.
With the social premium that Fairtrade pays, one co-operative had set up a childrens’ day-care centre, enabling the mothers to spend time on making handicrafts to generate family income. The co-operatives would also work together to organise transport to markets and negotiate better prices for raw materials.
We also visited areas near the volcano Mt Mayon which had been hit both by a volcanic eruption and three typhoons within the space of a couple of months in November 06. We saw the devastation and the graves of those who had died.
Those made homeless were still living in camps when we visited a few months after the typhoons, but those who were in Fairtrade co-operatives had been given food-aid and building materials as well as help to buy more raw materials to start generating income again. For them Fairtrade had provided a safety net.
What would you say to those who question whether Fairtrade is a good way to help people in countries like the Philippines?
You can contact Jenny Foster for more information about her trip and the Bristol Fairtrade network at Jenny@bristolfairtradenetwork.org.uk
See Jenny’s photos from this trip and other Fairtrade photos on my Flickr site here.