Fiji fair trade sugar farmers defend their brand
Fiji's Fairtrade sugar sticks up for the brand despite union calls for its removal.
Groups representing Fiji farmers producing sugar under the Fair Trade label say they stand by the brand.
That's despite an international union's call to have the product stripped of its label because of worker rights violations in the country.
Sally Round reports.
The Fair Trade organisation works with about 13,000 sugar cane farmers in three co-operatives in Fiji. The farmers receive a premium of nearly four million US dollars annually for their sugar which is ploughed back into their communities for things like village halls, bore holes, education, women's groups and subsidised fertilisers. A farmer's representative, Parbindra Singh, says sugar farmers are some of the poorest people in Fiji and it would be unfair to remove the label.
PARBINDRA SINGH: Farmers will again lose hope as far as their sugar cane cultivation is concerned. (Since) fair trade has come in, people are now coming back to farming once again. Because most of the farmers two years back, they wanted to go away from this sugar cane farming. It was very hard, very very hard I would say.
But down the line from the farmers there are other workers involved in fair trade sugar, including the members of unions. And the head of the Fiji Trades Union Congress, Rajeshwar Singh, says labour standards must also be respected as part of fairtrade certification. Mr Singh says the label should not be applied because the Fiji regime has assaulted the rights of workers.
RAJESHWAR SINGH: They're (saying) that is for the farmers, but the question that is central to this issue is about freedom of association, workers' rights and the violation of workers rights in this country, and there are four unions in the sugar sector.
The International Trades Union Congress chief Sharan Burrow says Fiji's workers have nobody standing up for them outside the global union movement. She says the ITUC will call on Fairtrade International executives meeting shortly in Europe to strip Fiji sugar of its Fair Trade label.
SHARAN BURROW: The board is an independent board but we would hope that they would stand firm against the set of principles they espouse where workers rights are respected. But you can't pretend that products coming out of Fiji are actually produced in any kind of fair trade environment.
Fair Trade Australia and New Zealand says fair trade certification applies to the people at the bottom of the supply chain who are often the poorest. Fairtrade New Zealand's general manager Steve Knapp says there are several thousand farmers involved compared to a few hundred millworkers but he says Fairtrade is working with the unions to address what are complicated problems.
STEVE KNAPP: We're definitely not pulling the wool over consumers' eyes. I mean we certify the farmers' groups and the farmers meet the standards and the benefits from fair trade are flowing through to the farmers. Other issues in the supply chain, we're doing our best with our influence and our leverage to be able to tackle those issues.
The ITUC has placed Fiji among the the world's worst countries for workers on its Global Rights Index and it expects to meet the Fairtrade board in the next few days to press its case.
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