|Fairtrade is by no means perfect and many people have a fair amount to say about it- some good and some not so good. Here are our answers to a few frequent queries. See what you think and email us more questions you have.
Fairtrade depresses world market itself...
Critics' most common gripe about Fairtrade is that it creates the very situation it is aiming to avert. Fairtrade works to counteract volatile market prices but critics say that by artificially raising prices it encourages a commodity regardless of world demand.
But this is not quite true. The artificially raised price referred to is no more than a minimum floor price to cover the cost of sustainable production. Unlike regular subsidies is not a fixed price distorting demand but a just a fair starting point for market based price negotiations.
1. What is BT cotton and why do we not support it?
BT cotton is a genetically modified form of cotton developed with the notion of making it resistant to a pesky pest call the boll worm. Initially it did seem to work and was impressively marketed but it is now surrounded by controversy and its results are not looking so rosy.
The protein that the modified genes produce is said to be toxic to bollworm. But the cunning bollworm is becoming resistance to this toxicity while the beneficial insects- the ones that help the farmers out- are the ones that are dying. More resistance means more pesticides which means more expense and a worse off environment.
Different cotton seeds also have different cotton needs. BT cotton needs a lot of water and works best on irrigated farm land. For those rain fed farmers (generally the most vulnerable farmers), sowing BT cotton is sowing disaster as the thirsty plant impatient for water withers and dies.
On top of this, cattle fed on the BT cotton residue don't seem too happy either. Several studies have been done after a worrying number of livestock that had fed from BT cotton plants and seeds started having convulsions, bloated tummies and dying. Livestock are now advised not to munch on Bt food.
BT seeds though are still frustratingly tempting to the farmers because they are cheap. This is why Zameen farmers are now cultivating their own seeds. No unknown GM nasties and more money in their back pockets.
2. What are the In Conversion Years
Converting your cotton field from conventional farming to organic doesn't happen with a click of the fingers. In fact a 'full' conversion takes three years and there is probably a reduction in yield during these years. Luckily the premiums (both organic and fair-trade) mean that money wise the farmers stay afloat.
Once chemical pesticides have been done away with and chemical fertilisers reduced to a minimum, farmers can sell their cotton under the sexy title of IC 0 (In Conversion: year 0). With all non-natural fertilisers ousted the cotton gets promoted to IC1 and then IC2 the following harvest. IC3 (after 3 beautiful chemical free years) is your ultimate Organic certified cotton.
The In Conversion Years are necessary in terms of certification standards but IC1 and co. are well on their way to organic bliss (they are just a little bit cheaper to buy)
3. Why do farmers have to pay certification fees?
When Fairtrade first started they could just about cover the costs through industry subsidies. Now that it covers hundreds of orgs in different countries all needing information, inspections and audits those costs have rocketed. Without the certification fees Fairtrade simply wouldn't be able to provide these services. The fee though depends on the size and number of products and there's a Producer Certification Fund which can pay for up to 75% of the fee depending.
Organic certification costs about the same as a Fairtrade one (both are set by ISO 65). Again the fee amount is dependent on the size and amount of work needed.
4. Child labour issues?
When you're living in poverty your childhood is often lost to the priorities of hungry tummies and finding water. Many Indian families have no choice but to get their children to earn money. This is not fair but poverty is not fair either.
Zameen helps farmers out of poverty and in doing so gives children their childhood.
No children are allowed to work in any part of Zameen's cotton process. The farmers themselves do not employ children and our partnership with ALOK Industries ensures that child labour is banned throughout the supply chain.
If this is something you want to know more about we'd be happy to organise interviews for you with people throughout the supply chain. We carry out annual inspections and worker interviews to double check everything but the more monitoring the better!
5. Cotton needs too much water to ever be environmentally friendly
As cotton is a thirsty crop some people claim it is hypocritical to claim it as organic when it deprives the environment of so much water. ZFarmers though are all rain fed (as are 60% of all Indian farmers) so don't impact ground water reserves. Also contrary to its reputed drinking habits, cotton, especially organic cotton is pretty resilient. It might not look its best during a drought but as soon as the first rains come it springs back to life.
Irrigating agricultural land is not a bad thing in itself but farmers do need to think about the sustainability of using ground water.
6. Isa cotton supply chain overly complex?
People say the garment supply chain is too complex. This is true; it is complex which is why Zameen came into being. We take the intricately complex mesh of growers, middlemen, ginners, middlemen, spinners, middlemen, dyers, middlemen and so on- untangle it, cut out the bits we don't need (the middlemen), certify the bits that we do need and just like that the confusing mess which seems to confuse accountability within a supply chain is suddenly gone. We can trace our cotton right down to the farmer and you are welcome to quiz us on every step.
7. What is a living wage?
A living wage is simply a wage that allows you to live. It affords you your basic needs- food, water, shelter. It isn't much but it's the difference between dying with poverty and living with poverty. If a farmer is unable to negotiate a price for his crop that covers his production costs he can't afford these simple requirements. This 'dying wage' is illustrated in the 150,000 farmer suicides reported in the last decade.
If you are unsure about something or want to question something we do please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com. We will get back to you ASAP and if relevant to other readers will publish it on our site.