Coffee is a very popular beverage in the Netherlands. I personally don't drink it but lots of it get consumed at places of work and schools. A lot of people enjoy the finished product but few are actually aware of the sweat and hard work that goes into the production of coffee beans.
Lots of people aren't aware of how the price of coffee fell in the 1980s. The price was so low that it couldn't cover the cost of production. Many farmers had to abandon their farmlands and leave for the big cities to find work. This was as a result of the unstable coffee market. Few understand that the coffee they enjoy in big cities come from coffee beans that are produced in very rural parts of countries in Africa, Latin America and South-East Asia. During the collapse of the coffee price, lots of these villages didn't have schools, good roads or bridges. It was Max Havelaar Fairtrade that gave them a "fighting chance." Fairtrade offered them a way to get fair prices for their products and to form unions because unity gives them strength. These poor communities are now able to spend the money they earn on building schools and clinics, environmental protection, roads and bridges, and modernising their methods of farming. They're also able to send their kids to school and make sure that they stay in school.
Apart from the production of coffee beans and chocolate, there is also the issue of fashion brands who use slaves in their chain of production.
Of course, the average person finds slavery to be appalling and utterly despicable. But as soon as they walk into a fashion store (known for using slave labour and having factories in countries like India and Bangladesh) with beautiful summer tops and brightly coloured jeans, they forget about the slavery that was used in the sewing of those clothes, all because of how cheap they are. Yes, really! What a bargain!
The United Nations' International Labour Organisation estimates there are at least 21 million victims of forced labour in the world, with the Asia-Pacific region home to 56 percent of garment factories used by international brands. An outcry from protesters and people in these regions has seen companies try to do more to combat the use of slave/child labour in the production of their clothes. Max Havelaar also plays a key role in making sure that these companies pay their workers fairly and desist from the use of child/slave labour.
Who is Max Havelaar?
It's true that Max Havelaar was never a real person, but he has been very important and influential in the Dutch's foreign policy. He was the main character in the 1860 satirical novel (of the same name) by Eduard Douwes Dekker (1820 –1887), better known by his pen name Multatuli. Max Havelaar was known to fight against the corrupt government system and coffee trade in the Dutch East Indies. This was a time when Europe benefited greatly from wealth which was as the result of suffering in other parts of the developing world. The Netherlands were milking Indonesia "dry to the bone" and using the people as slaves while enriching their country with the resources from that region. Multatuli's Max Havelaar exposed and spoke against these acts.
Today, the name "Max Havelaar" has endured to become a symbol of ethical trading between rich and poor nations. And not just nations, but corporations and farmers and consumers as well. Established by the Dutch in 1989, the brand name which was the world's first Fairtrade labelling system, is now part of the worldwide labelling organisation, Fairtrade International (FLO). Max Havelaar is very popular in the Netherlands as different brands seek to be both sustainable and ethically responsible in their production methods. You've probably seen their logo on your coffee brand, your groceries or even in a clothing store. Still, the question remains; What is "Max Havelaar Fairtrade?"
What is Fairtrade All About?
Fairtrade is a system of producing and selling goods that ensures the people selling them receive a fair price. Max Havelaar Fairtrade is an alternative approach to conventional trade based on a partnership between producers and traders, businesses and consumers.
The Max Havelaar Foundation is an independent and non-profit certification organisation that promotes Fairtrade products. They also license the use of the Fairtrade Certification Mark on products in different countries, in accordance with internationally agreed Fairtrade standards. Max Havelaar is part of a larger international movement and one of 19 national Fairtrade organisations covering 24 countries.
From empowering women to making sure that farmers get the wages they deserve while also encouraging brands to stop the use of slaves in their production chain, Fairtrade's ultimate goal is to make sure that all trade is fair.
How did Fairtrade start?
What is today a global movement once had humble beginnings. It all started during the 1940s (to 1960s), when craft items from supply chains in developing countries were sold for the first time in churches and charity shops like Oxfam in the UK, and what is now called Ten Thousand Villages in the US.
Today, Fairtrade is a global movement that has spread across more than 70 countries in the world. Over a million small-scale producers and workers are organised in about 3,000 grassroots organisations in more than 70 countries.
Fairtrade in the Netherlands.
Over 1,700 Fairtrade products are for sale in the Netherlands and studies show that a lot of Dutch households buy Fairtrade products.
Fairtrade coffee is quite popular in the Netherlands along with chocolate and bananas. Other sorts of Fairtrade products are also available in the supermarkets, including tea, sugar, wine etc.
There are also plans to start Fairtrade towns in the Netherlands. This is an initiative that will see the sale of Fairtrade products in the country soar. Locals are pushing for their municipalities and towns to become Fairtrade towns where fair and sustainable trade is the way of life. For more on this concept, please check out their website.
More on Fairtrade's Work
Fairtrade is not a closed system, it is open to everyone. We have to encourage more and more people to buy Fairtrade products so that the market can grow and more farmers can become certified. Fairtrade educates the producers about market prices so that buyers have to offer them a competitive rate. It also benefits the wider community because farmers are able to afford their basic needs as well as contribute positively to the growth and development of their communities.
Here's a plea from the writer ...
I know how people (especially in the Netherlands) love their discounts and getting a good price for their groceries, but I want you to know that buying Fairtrade is not a waste of money. To be honest, in the supply and demand business, there are really no discounts, because someone always pays the price! If you buy coffee or bananas that aren't Fairtrade, the farmers in those developing countries where they were produced pay the price. If you buy cheap clothes from budget fashion brands (who use child/slave labour), the children/slaves used in sewing those clothes are the ones who pay the price. The question we must ask ourselves is; "Is it really worth it?"
When you are doing your groceries, please look out for the Fairtrade label as you can always be sure that the money goes straight to the producers. It may be just a bit more expensive but it will definitely help the poor and less privileged around the world. Fairtrade has helped a lot of poor farmers stay in business, know more on how to get a fair price from powerful corporations as well as care for their families and communities. Not being paid a fair price is slavery and if we can all come together to buy Fairtrade products, we would be making the world a better place for everyone.
I believe that free trade is not responsible trade. A lot of corporations around the world are neither sustainable nor ethical as they are only interested in making a profit. Unfortunately, when prices collapse, farmers produce more and prices drop further. Fairtrade is the way trade should be: fair, responsible and sustainable.
So please, get on board! Try as much as you can to research how ethical the company you're buying from is. Do they use child/slave labour? Are their methods of production eco-friendly/sustainable? Do they pay farmers a fair price?
Don't just go for the cheapest product on the shelf or the ones in the discount section, because whether you like it or not, someone else is going to pay the price!