Decent livelihoods

A decent standard of living – one that covers basic needs and supports an existence worthy of human dignity – is a human right. But small-scale farmers and agricultural workers – despite growing the crops that drive supply chains worth billions on the global market – too often live in poverty.

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A banana-farming family enjoying their new home at the Fairtrade certified APBOSMAM cooperative, Peru.
Image © Luca Rinaldini

Cheap food comes at a cost: the exploitation of farmers and workers at the start of the supply chain. Out of the 736 million people living in extreme poverty worldwide, about 80 percent live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for survival.

It is unacceptable – and unsustainable – that the people who grow and harvest much of the world’s food do not get paid enough to make a decent living.

Farmers who own their own land face different challenges than agricultural workers working on someone else’s land.

A farmer’s income has to cover her farming expenses before she can bring any money home to support household needs. In conventional trade, farmers have virtually no power to set sustainable prices, and a bad season can mean no income at all.

In contrast, hired workers in agriculture are paid a wage and may receive other benefits like housing, but often have little job security, face poor living and working conditions, and are at risk of exploitation by their employers.

In both scenarios, many young people see their parents’ struggles and are forced to leave their land in hopes of securing a better future.

The good news is that most shoppers don’t want their enjoyment of food and everyday luxuries like coffee and chocolate to come at the expense of farmers and workers living in poverty. For instance, a recent study found that workers being paid a living wage is a top sustainability priority for consumers, and more than 8 out of 10 shoppers want brands to take action on global poverty.

How Fairtrade promotes decent livelihoods

The pathways to a decent living will be different for farmers and workers.

This is why we have developed two strategies: one for living income for small-scale farmers and one for living wage for hired workers.

There is much more work to be done. Here are some of the ways Fairtrade contributes to a decent living:

  • The Fairtrade Minimum Price and Premium provide important price protection and additional funds to farmers and workers. Fairtrade cooperatives can choose to pay out a share of Premium funds to members, as can workers on certified plantations, in order to boost incomes. Collective Premium projects lower workers’ expenditure on health, housing and education.

  • The Fairtrade Standards require employers to incrementally increase wages to reach a living wage. We have also introduced the Floor Wage requirement that offers protection to workers in countries where wages are extremely low.

  • We co-founded the Global Living Wage Coalition, and support the development of living wage benchmarks for specific countries and regions. These benchmarks help us to see the gap with current wages and find solutions together with employers, workers, buyers and retailers.

  • Fairtrade has developed the concept of a Living Income Reference Price, which indicates the price needed for full-time farmers with adequate, sustainable productivity levels to earn a living income.

  • We promote workers’ organizing in trade unions so that they can bargain collectively for better wages. We do so through our standards and by working with the labour movement.

  • To support producers in selling more of their produce on Fairtrade terms and receiving the price and premium benefits, we developed a model for companies to source more and more ingredients as Fairtrade within a final packaged product.

  • We are raising our voices to bring attention to this issue, with other committed partners, to encourage actions by governments, companies and consumers that will make progress toward farmers and workers earning a decent living. Read more detail about our work on farmer incomes and workers’ wages.

Our work towards decent incomes for small scale farmers and workers contributes to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 1 (no poverty) and SDG 2 (zero hunger), SDG 8 (decent work), and SDG 12 (sustainable consumption and production).

The ability to earn a decent living offers the next generation of farmers and workers a sustainable future. It will require everyone playing their part – including shoppers choosing to stand up for farmer and worker livelihoods. Decent work and a decent living – it’s not too much to ask, right?