26 Oct 2020

Hired Labour Organizations honoured in Fairtrade Awards

In a series of articles leading up to the 2020 International Fairtrade Awards on October 29, we take a closer look at the finalists in the four categories: Small Producer Organization (SPO) of the Year; Hired Labour Organization (HLO) of the Year; Trader of the Year and Campaign of the Year. This week we feature the work of the four finalists in the HLO category.

“In India, retirement is a curse. We have people who are ill treated because they don’t have any money, and in some cases neglected,” says Titus Pinto, Chair of the Fairtrade certified United Nilgiri Tea Estates in Tamil Nadu, India. “So we decided to set up a fund which provides workers with a pension for 10 years after they retire. This enables them to have some dignity in life after the leave us.”

UNITEA’s pioneering improvements to workers’ benefits won them a place in the finals. Fairtrade Premium - the extra money received for selling tea on Fairtrade terms - has also been used to enhance education for workers’ children. “We provide school facilities unrivalled in this kind of rural area,” says Estate Manager Aleemuddin Khan. “Hundreds of children over the years have benefitted from Fairtrade. We have former students who are now doctors, directors of multinational companies abroad and very successful engineers.”

“We try to make sure their lives are as easy as possible while they work for us,” says Titus. “We look after their education, their health, and their retirement.”

Fellow finalists Desert Joy - most of whose staff are women - has made a success producing Fairtrade certified tomatoes in the unlikely setting of the Tunisian desert. “Being a Fairtrade producer shows people that we are a social company, and we want social development for the people who work with us,” says General Manager Raja Zarouk. “They get a chance to be independent women, and to earn an income to help their family, raise their children, educate them and give them a good future.”

In one of the vast greenhouses full of tomatoes ripe for picking, Team Leader Salha Yazidi is one of the beneficiaries of the Fairtrade Premium. “We’ve started a crèche so parents can bring their children to work. I am due to have a baby soon and I’m happy that my children will close to me when I work. I was also able to take three months maternity leave with the help of Fairtrade, which gave me the chance to stay with my children.”

Her colleague Salma Chabbar nods. “This job has improved my economic and social standard of living,” she says. “I feel my children are happier than before.”

Valentine Growers, a Fairtrade flower grower near Nairobi, Kenya, is another HLO finalist where Fairtrade Premium is used to give workers and their families a better future. “We make sure the Premium is benefiting the workers, their families and the community members at large without any discrimination whatsoever,” says Dennis Gakuru, the Fairtrade Officer at Valentine Growers. “We try to focus on education, because education is the greatest investment these workers can make.”

Flower grader Jacinta Wanjira Muiga is living proof of the power of education. “I’ve worked here for 14 years, and during that time my kids have been sponsored from high school to university. I myself have also been to catering college, and as a result, my life has greatly improved.”

The fourth finalist in the HLO category is Agrotes SAS, a banana grower based in Urabá, Colombia. Worried by the amount of rubbish and waste piling up in the community, they teamed up with local NGO Ecologica Recicla to establish a recycling and education programme among workers and their families.

“In this region we produce around 500 tonnes of garbage every day - that makes me crazy!” says Victoria Villanueva Franco, Founder of Ecologica Recicla. “When we approached Agrotes, they said what’s the impact going to be? How can we help you? How can we work together? How can we make our workers more interested in protecting the environment?”

“Ecologica is a great idea,” says Felipe Echeverri, General Manager at Agrotes. “Now we reuse and recycle materials from the farms. There are many banana producers in the world, but not all of them are searching for a better world.”

We will announce the winners of the Fairtrade Awards on October 29. Stay tuned!