Research published by the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at London University reveals that workers at Fairtrade certified farms are paid less and suffer inferior working conditions compared with those working for non-Fairtrade farms.
The criticism emerges after a four-year research project conducted by development economists at SOAS. Funded by Britain’s Department for International Development, the researchers investigated labour markets for export crops in Ethiopia and Uganda. The micro-study of life for the rural poor involved 1,000 days of field research and the data covered 1,700 respondents including focus groups and life histories.
The latter expose the often appalling conditions suffered by workers picking the coffee beans and carnations that end up on supermarket shelves in Europe, the U.S. and Canada. The report titled Fairtrade, Employment and Poverty Reduction in Ethiopia and Uganda is at times a grim chronicle of exposure to harmful pesticides, workers forced to pay bribes to secure employment as well as violence and sexual abuse.
The report’s conclusion will come as a shock to consumers in rich countries who pick brands carrying the Fairtrade logo, supposedly supporting the earnings of family farms and small-holders by paying of a “Fairtrade premium,” helping them compete in a world dominated by large plantations.