Fairtrade production is associated with improved wages and reduced poverty among cooperative workers, but not among farm labourers who work for smallholder farmers. The findings are reported in a study of cocoa farm workers from Cote d’Ivoire published online this week in Nature Sustainability.
Workers in rural areas of developing countries often face precarious working conditions, low wages and poverty. Sustainability standards — such as Fairtrade — could potentially improve the situation. Previous research has focused on the impact of Fairtrade on smallholder farmers. However, few studies have focused on workers hired for farming.
Eva-Marie Meemken and colleagues surveyed 500 farm and cooperative workers and their employers (50 Cote d’Ivoire cocoa cooperatives and 500 farmers with and without Fairtrade certification). The authors analysed these interviews and used econometric estimation methods to distinguish between benefits for farm and cooperative workers, and to study seasonal variation in household income, payments in kind, working conditions and job security.
The authors show that although Fairtrade standards are linked to higher wages and improved worker welfare for cooperative workers, wages and working conditions for farm workers are not affected by Fairtrade regulations. They suggest several reasons for this discrepancy, including that labour standards at the farm level are poorly defined or monitored.
This analysis challenges the notion that Fairtrade benefits everyone participating in certified production. The authors emphasize the need for clearly formulated rules that apply at all levels of the supply chain to ensure fair work. Further research is needed to examine additional countries, crops and vulnerable worker groups in the supply chain.