michael gindey fairtrade web quote

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), being ratified this month, are an unparalleled opportunity to address the causes of some of the world’s most intractable problems (see p30). They will set the international policy agenda for the next 15 years. Poverty, human rights, climate change, gender, child labour, inequality: these issues are increasingly on the agenda of companies sourcing internationally.

At the heart of the SDGs is an acknowledgement that many of the world’s most pressing problems are interconnected. Global economic growth has increased carbon emissions; as living standards improve so increased consumer demand affects global food prices, putting pressure on food security in poorer countries. Even as some developing countries strengthen their economies, global inequality has increased.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” This African proverb is at the heart of the SDGs: if we do not ensure no-one is left behind, we will all fail. It is also at the heart of Fairtrade, which creates partnerships and value chains truly sustainable for all.

Many companies, particularly in the food industry, already recognise this interconnection, and are acting on it. For example, there has been a step change towards sustainability in the global cocoa industry over the past few years, after decades of underinvestment led to low productivity and an ageing farming population in west Africa.

Now most of the leading chocolate brands have sustainability commitments, as do retailers and traders in other sectors.

We know from a growing body of research that producers in Fairtrade are less likely to be hungry and their children are more likely to have access to education and healthcare. Perhaps, most importantly, we know from Fairtrade producers that they feel more confident about their trading futures and are more prepared to take risks and invest in their farms.

Consumers for their part expect grocery retailers and brands to be accountable for their social and environmental impacts; that the principles of co-creation, value sharing, transparency and accountability are here to stay.

At Fairtrade we are planning improvements in the certification model that will require working together in new ways to target more clearly some challenging and serious problems (gender equality, living wage, child labour, climate change).

The pattern of historic under-investment in agricultural supply chains has been repeated across the world. Two billion people depend on agriculture for their livelihood but still, according to the UN, half the world’s hungry are themselves farmers.

The scandal of poverty among farmers and workers and associated problems such as poor education and health, child labour and lack of agricultural training will need a concerted effort by all of us: governments, companies, producers and consumers. The SDGs, then, could help create a race to the top.

Let’s go together and together we will go far.

Michael Gidney is chief executive of the Fairtrade Foundation