Women, Co-operatives and Fair Trade
Women around the world are improving their lives through membership of co-operatives and selling their produce through Fair Trade. Through visiting Fair Trade producers I gained an insight into this.
Sarah is a farmer in Ghana with the Kuapa Kookoo Co-operative, which represents over 45,000 cocoa farmers through 1300 co-operative societies. As a fan of co-operatives I had long admired this organisation. After a tour of the cocoa fields, Sarah was really eager to show me her house which she was immensely proud of. She explained that it was only through being a Kuapa farmer (and thus their growing exports through Fair Trade), that she had been able to afford to build the traditional mud and clay small house. Women’s Development groups are also run to help women be financially independent, for example, by starting micro-businesses outside the cocoa growing season.
Another remarkable outcome of Kuapa Kookoo’s work is the number of women on its National Executive Council, which at 6/10 bucks the national trend. This is because each farmer has a vote and can stand to represent the local co-operative society at the area and main board. They also send one man and woman from each village society to the Annual General Meeting where main decisions are made.
So many women I met talked most about their children’s future and education is key to that. Whilst sometimes education is free, there are often school fees, uniforms, books and pens to buy that exclude some of the poorest paid. The basic long term income from Fair Trade helps them do that as well as feeding their children.
Ann Summa and other tea farmers in Kerala, India, live in the Ellapara mountains and own small areas of land they grow tea on. They collectively sell their tea as a consortium and through selling a tiny percentage of their tea on Fair Trade terms, she is able to keep paying their older children’s college fees. At a meeting of the Women’s Group they discussed how to spend their future Fair Trade premium. The amount was likely to be smallish and although they would have liked to have some kind of visiting medical clinic, they decided instead to spend the money on organic farming, so they no longer had to use the same tools containing pesticides. They explained how whenever they tried this their children had much better health compared to regular sickness after conventional spraying. This correlated with the story of Bella Joachim, a Banana farmer from Dominica who I met on tour in Wales during Fair Trade Fortnight in 2009. From her point of view, as well as having a better price, the most significant change from Fair Trade was in better health and safety procedures.
In rural Tamil Nadu, India, I was amazed to visit a garment factory with a crèche on site. The factory only makes Fair Trade goods. This meant women, who formed the majority of the workers, could go to work and earn their own money and hence have some financial independence. As the factory pays relatively well for the area it is also key to keeping people in the community, as many young people in India migrate to large towns to find work. Women’s’ groups, which were small groups of women who were waiting for employment at the factory and did cotton bag sewing, were so successful and in such demand that they had been extended to men’s groups.
Elizabeth Hudson visisted Kuapa Kookoo with Fair Trade Wales in 2008 (to represent the Centre’s Fair Trade Business project) and India in 2007 as a personal trip.