Every Trader Can Be Just and Fair

Fr. Shay Cullen

In the dangerous southern island of Mindanao in the Philippine archipelago of more than 7,000 islands, martial law reigns. It is a place forbidden to non-Filipinos by many embassies. It is troubled with social and political unrest. Mindanao is in a state of fear and tension and the economy in decline.

Nevertheless, Donard Angeles, the Preda Fair Trade staff connects with the Preda organized mango farmers in Mindanao and braves the dangers. He directly visits and delivers the Fair Trade bonus payments to the farmers. He brings school supplies to their children. It is a big success story since we at Preda Foundation started fair trade-in mangos in 1996. Juanito and Maria and their three children have used the earnings from selling the mangos at fair prices and the Preda bonus payments to build a strong house after the heavy storms damaged their previous bamboo house.  It is small but strong and will withstand storms and an earthquake. Many other farmers have done likewise.

Antonio harvests from 40 trees. He too is a tenant farmer and gives 30 percent of what he earns to the landowner. He gets to keep 70 percent of the fair trade price of the mangos and keeps 100 percent of the dividend. He started a small piggery and sells pork in the local market and does very well for his family. They live in dignity, all thanks to Preda fair-trade mangos. Previously, farmers would receive a very low price for their mangos from local traders and be exploited and lived in rural poverty.

There are no roads in that mountainous area of southern Mindanao and Donard hired a motorcycle with carrier and visited the remote families and delivered the supplies to the children. The children love to receive colorful school bags and notebooks, pens and pencils. On previous trips, he brought Fairtrade inspectors and fair trade volunteers to meet the farmers and their families.

I joined the visit a few years ago also and saw for myself the social changes brought about by fair trade. Juanito is just one of many farmers he met. Juanito harvests from fifty mango trees every year and prays for a good harvest. But last year, the deadly climate change came and a sudden unexpected thunderstorm wiped the blossoms off the tress. It was devastating for them and like many of the Preda fair trade farmers, they had very few mango fruits.

This year is good. They are harvesting tons of fruit to be made into delicious dried mango. It is all done without pesticides, chemicals or coloring. The mangos have their natural sweet taste. There is just payment, no child labor and gender balance and respect among the farmers. The women are the business people and enjoy a high status in the community. Frequently they are elected to local councils.

This is part of the fulfillment of the Fair Trade criteria that Preda is well known for. It is a sharing of the earnings with the producers of the fruit that is sliced and dried at the mango processing facility in Davao City.  Preda Fair Trade, officially known as Profairtrade Development Enterprise, is a not-for-profit enterprise. All the earnings go to help the farmers and their children and also a percentage of the earnings are donated to help the victims of the unfair and evil exploitation of the trade-in women and children. Preda Foundation fights against human trafficking and the sex trade that exploits children.

The Preda home for children cares for as many as 50 child victims of sexual exploitation at any given time. Also, many children are rescued from the sub-human conditions of government detentions centers and are given a new life of dignity and education in the Preda home for children at risk and in conflict with the law.

I invite all trading partners to visit the projects, meet the farmers, visit the children’s homes and check the books and records and confirm, evaluate and verify for themselves the practice and implementation of the Fair Trade criteria. This is the best guarantee of authentic fair trade practice. It is best to come and see, listen and talk with the people and producers. This is what Fair Trade certifying organizations that issue certificates for high fees should do but frequently fail to do.

Every commercial trading business is encouraged to practice the criteria of Fair Trade. Commercial companies don’t have to be certified by any Fair Trade organization to practice the criteria of Fair Trade. They should always do so by their own practice and implementation of moral principles. They are presumed to be an ethically correct business that they are honest traders, fair-minded, concerned for the people and producers and they are not cheating and exploiting the producers.

I invite commercial traders and business people to go even further. They don’t have to be Fair Trade certified, to be honest, and just and caring. They need to be sure and verify that their products are ethically sourced and that the products are not produced in exploitive conditions and unfair practices. It’s good if an external Fairtrade inspection agency would verify their practice but they usually fail to do so.

The commercial business management to be honest and fair will pay their suppliers on time, the just and correct price. They will not cancel orders at the last minute. They will never tolerate child labor, they will see their producers and suppliers have good working conditions. They will guarantee that their producers have equal pay for women and that they receive health and social benefits and have decent homes. Sharing the wealth is what makes for a more just and fair world.

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