21 Feb 2022

Digitalizing for Fairness

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How Fairtrade is Leveraging Digital Tools to Build a Fairer Future for All

By Dr. Arisbe Mendoza Escalante, Director of Global Impact at Fairtrade.

The future is digital. In the three decades since the popularization of the internet, this mantra, oft repeated from Silicon Valley board rooms to government ministries, has acquired the charge of inevitability, rather than prophecy. It has galvanized everyone from VCs and politicians to tech junkies and everyday consumers with its promise of ease, efficiency, and systemic streamlining. Digitalization is the future of humanity, and the future does, indeed, seem digital.

But at Fairtrade we also know that the future is fair. In fact, we are committed to fairness and social justice because we operate with the profound belief that the future of flourishing livelihoods and of equitable supply chains, of mainstreaming women’s empowerment and eliminating north-south divides, is one rooted in the global pursuit of equality, sustainability, and fairness for all.

That’s why at Fairtrade we are ramping up our efforts to digitalize fairness by leveraging the three Ts: traceability, transparency, and trade. In this way, we can ensure that, as boardrooms and governments digitally speed ahead, farmers, agricultural workers, and consumers are not left behind. But what do we mean by digitalizing fairness? And how can we make certain that our digital future is, indeed, fair?

For one, we can start by building a firm commitment to fair and equitable access to data. Since 2019, Fairtrade, alongside our partners Farmforce and Think!Data, has been working on a win-win digital solution for cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire to ensure their cooperatives can own their data and leverage it beneficially to respond to market changes and increase market access.

Once the systems are implemented, cooperatives will be able to map their members’ farms and track what they buy from each farm, giving cocoa producers greater oversight of their own businesses and the ability to assure buyers of how and where their cocoa is grown. In our digital future, information is power. And fair data puts farmers and cooperatives right at the centre, so they have a system that meets their own needs, and they acquire the capacity to control and benefit from that information. After all, that’s exactly what we mean by fair data – data that is accessible, transparent, and has the power to uplift all who use it.

But fair data means nothing if it cannot be leveraged in the first place. Which is why Fairtrade is also spearheading fair access to market. Fairtrade believes producers should have fair access to core markets because only through trade can we generate the value for farmers that leads to flourishing livelihoods. At the same time, we also believe that consumers should have assurance guaranteed. We recognize the potential digital technologies have in linking smallholder farmers directly to consumers just as we understand the consumer’s need for traceability and transparency on how their purchasing practices impact farmers, the environment, and social justice.

Transparency and traceability are more than just tools that enable sustainability. Fairtrade relies on these to enforce accountability, shared value and risk across the supply chain, and build increased trust with farmers, retailers, and consumers. As a result, through our planned FairMarket strategy Fairtrade is working to help smallholder farmers digitalize operations, ensure traceability and transparency, and contribute to a more efficient and transparent supply chain with fewer intermediaries.

By implementing a digitalized system that can provide real-time projections on what is being produced and who has stock that remains unsold, Fairtrade can digitalize for market efficiency. In addition, we can address the existing asymmetry of power in information distribution, ensuring that farmers and their cooperatives gain critical information from their commercial partners that may impact their businesses. That is market fairness in action.

Finally, digitalizing for fairness means a constant drive for product innovation. We already know the future is fair, but we also know that to achieve it we must continue to innovate, evolving technologies that create access-to-market for farmers and cooperatives while building an increasingly transparent supply chain. At Fairtrade, where our global network spans 1.9 million farmers in 1,880 producer organizations across more than 70 countries, that means harnessing digital platforms to ensure that our digital world is indeed a flat one where information is accessible and flows seamlessly.

Enter Fairtrade’s virtual flower farm tours. Launched in 2021, the Fairtrade system’s virtual flower farm tours provide invaluable insights into Fairtrade-certified flower farm operations and important metrics on their sustainability achievements regarding everything from waste management and water and energy usage to gender equality initiatives.

Through an innovative and new digital platform where transparency and data meet, Fairtrade can offer retailers, traders, consumers, and producers a cogent opportunity to leverage digital tools for information sharing. And as we head into 2022 and beyond, we’re aiming to scale-up our virtual farm tours and build on the digital resources that we can offer all members of the Fairtrade ecosystem so that trade, transparency, and traceability become more than just the aspirations of a fairer tomorrow – they become the building blocks of our fair future.

That’s what we mean by digitalizing fairness. Because as the world increasingly digitalizes, we cannot afford to leave fairness behind.