Middlemen in trade have always made more profit than producers of goods and services. This is especially true in commodities produced in equatorial countries, and which are processed and/or marketed in northern industrialized countries.
In 1981 in Mexico, downtrodden coffee farmers gathered in an old church to discuss ways to improve their environments and lives.
They lacked roads, running water, health care of any sort and schools, and depended on local “barons” who exploited them by buying their coffee at well below market value and enriching themselves.
They decided to create a co-operative to negotiate better prices and divert part of the additional income to build better roads, start medical centres, improve schools and invest in water purification installations. They travelled to the Netherlands, looking for partners in their noble pursuit.
Since then fair trade that advocates dialogue, transparency, and respect. It also seeks greater equity in international trade.
Independent banana producers make only four per cent of the retail price, the rest goes to middlemen.
In the coffee trade, the proportion of profit by middlemen is more or less the same as is the case in bananas.
Fair trade has gained a lot of traction since it started in earnest in 1985 and now several large importing countries (the USA, the UK, Germany, France, Switzerland, and Canada) boast several well-established distribution systems that effectively support producers and improves their lives.
End consumers may or may not pay very little higher prices than standard for products of the same category of goods, but the price differential is minimal.
Eric St. Pierre, an excellent photographer and writer, travelled to many countries, interviewed co-operative managers, and members, and often shared accommodation with them to get a first hand feel of their lives. He visited faculties built by fair trade income.
The photography must be considered superb and revealing.
He is a captivating storyteller with a deft eye for detail and imagery detailing little known facts of trials and tribulations of handicraft creation, coffee, coca, sugar, tea, flower, rice, cotton, banana, shea butter, quinoa, wine and guarana producers.
An excellent book that deserves to be on the shelves of al private and public libraries.