Sunday, March 30, 2008

Fair Trade in the Middle East

For my next stage in research on Fair Trade, I focused on seeking out what already exists with regards to fair trade specifically in the Middle East region. Here are some links to fair trade products that are either being exported from the Middle East or imported from other countries. Additionally, I included a list of fair trade organizations based out of or dealing with the middle east.
This organization exports Fair Trade olive oil to the states from Palestine to benefit the olive farmers there in the midst of the challenges they are facing as a result of the conflict.

The AFSC, the American Friends Service Committee, has won a Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts towards humanity. Their focus is on service, development, social justice, and peace programs throughout the world, including Palestine, Iraq, and Africa.
I mentioned about Ten Thousand Villages in my post about the history of Fair Trade. They are a fair trade organization and of course have found a niche for fair trade in the Middle East, in addition to the many countries around the world they are support, their focus being in Egypt and the West Bank. They profile the artisans they support and share about their stories and handcrafts on their website. It is a very creative way to present the products, such as the beautiful olive wood carvings in Bethlehem.
Here is a very in depth article about the economic hardship the Palestinians face because of the Israeli occupation and talks about the many organizations selling fair trade Palestinian Olive Oil under the umbrella of the Palestinian Fair Trade Organization that was opened in 2003 in an effort to boost revenues for the Palestinians as well as the price of their oil. It lists the websites of the companies that sell this organic fair trade olive oil. They also plant thousands of olive trees.

A list of websites of fair trade producers in the Middle East:
This is an amazing article about fair trade between Israel and Palestine. Another product they trade is za2tar.
In addition to oil and za2tar, Palestinians are also selling fair trade produce. Here is an article about the involvement of Palestinian representatives at a fair trade meeting in UK. This is an article update on the topic of the FREE trade situation in the Middle East with regard to the GCC.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

History of Fair Trade

For my second project with Equilibrium, I am to research on Fair Trade to put together information as a reference for our clients.

The term Fair Trade was first used by Michael Barratt Brown in 1985, during a Trade and Technology Conference in London, although during the early days some other names existed: "Alternative trade", "Alternative commerce"... and some of them are still in use.

Principles and ideas related to fair trade and incorporating morals/ethics into commerce have been around for a long time, even before capitalist institutions began, dating back to at least the 18th century. Specifically, farmers and the poor were given consideration in different ways. One example of the system in this era would be the concept of the "old moral economy." However, the structured organizations supporting and promoting fair trade similar to what we see today began emerging much later, after World War II.

Political and religious Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) were the first groups to formally attempt to market goods from marginalized producers. The Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and SERRV International were the first, in 1946 and 1949 respectively, to create supply chains based on fair trade in developing countries. The products they commercialized were sold mostly by volunteers in "charity shops" as a way to raise charitable funds.
For example, in 1946, a volunteer from the Mennonite Community in the United States, founded what is now "Ten Thousand Villages" organization that began by buying quality linen needlework from Puerto Rico producers and selling them in the states, cutting out the middle man.

The fair trade movement we see today was first developed in Europe in the 1960s and served as a political statement by radical students against imperialism. During this time, the ideals where all producers are given fair and equal access to the markets, gained in popularity as the mainstream knew little about the realities of so-called "sweat shops"and the conditions under which products were made, they were very disconnected from the realities of where their products came from.

Soon, the first alternative trading organization was formed under the slogan "Helping by Selling," called British NGO Oxfam. Soon it m
oved from "helping" to empowering, by realizing the merits of workers' cooperatives and artisans' societies and fostering this. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the fair trade movement worked to find markets for products from countries that were excluded from the mainstream trading channels for political reasons. The message through these movements to the public and politicians was: "give disadvantaged producers in developing countries a fair chance on the world’s market, and you support their self-determined sustainable development." The movement gained in popular support and soon thereafter dozens of Alternative Trade Organizations were established. However, in the 1980's, the handcraft products that were being sold began to lose their marketability and this forced the fair trade supporters to rethink their approach and their goals.

Another factor that became an increasingly significant issue to fair trade supporters during this period was the impact of the fall of agricultural commodity prices on poor producers. Many believed it was the movement's responsibility to address the issue and to find innovative solutions to address the ongoing crisis in the industry. So they shifted from a focus on crafted goods to agricultural products such as coffee and tea, and then later fruits, cocoa, spices, and nuts, all of which which became a renewable source of income for the the producers. Coffee sales quickly became the main source of growth of fair trade. In 2005, coffee made up 25-50% of total revenues from ATOs.

Handcrafts are still considered the theme product of fair trade although they only appeal to a small segment of the market and the niche market who buys products typically gets these products for the story behind them. Agricultural products reach a much larger amount of buyers.

Another problem facing fair trade was that the products were not mass-produced and were only offered in small "worldshops" around Europe and in some parts of North America. As more people learned about the fair trade movement, the challenge was to find a way to expand distribution without compromising consumer trust in fair trade products and in their origins. Labeling products as fair trade goods allowed the products to spread to mainstream stores and locations around the world for increased exposure to the market. This would allow customers to be more inclined to purchase these products that before was not worth the opportunity cost of going to a market off the beaten path just for one good.

In 1989, a sharp crisis on coffee prices pushed growers to poverty in spite of being producing a nice coffee, well above average quality. Max Havelaar was working in Chiapas (southern Mexico) at the time with his father Franz Vandelhoff when they had the idea of differentiating their coffee, charging the final customer a little more, cutting off the middlemen and providing farmers a fair wage. They created the first Fair Trade certification label, or mark. It was launched under the initiative of Nico Roozen, Frans van der Hoff and Dutch ecumenical development agency Solidaridad. The labeling and consequent broader reach of the fair trade goods increased the sales significantly. The labeling also allowed consumers to trace where their products came from and whether or not the producers at the end of the supply chain were making a profit from them.

The initiative was a great success and was replicated in several other markets: in the ensuing years, similar non-profit Fairtrade labelling organizations were set up in other European countries and North America, called “Max Havelaar” (in Belgium, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway and France), “Transfair” (in Germany, Austria, Luxemburg, Italy, the United States, Canada and Japan), or carrying a national name: “Fairtrade Mark” in the UK and Ireland, “Rättvisemärkt” in Sweden, and "Reilu Kauppa" in Finland.

Initially, the Max Havelaars and the Transfairs each had their own Fairtrade standards, product committees and monitoring systems. In 1994, many of these labeling organizations merged into TransMax working group, culminating in 1997 in the creation of Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International. FLO is an umbrella organization whose mission is to set the Fairtrade standards, support, inspect and certify disadvantaged producers and harmonize the Fairtrade message across the movement.

In 2000 Garstang (Lancashire, UK) became the first Fairtrade town in the world. Now, some other 250 have followed.

In January 2004, Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International was divided into two independent organizations: FLO International, which sets Fairtrade standards and provides producer business support, and FLO-CERT, which inspects and certifies producer organizations. The aim of the split was to ensure the impartiality, the independence of the certification process and compliance with ISO 65 standards for product certification bodies.

Today, even big corporations set on profit-making now specify minimum standards of working conditions when they buy clothes and other products in low-income countries and labeling initiatives now exist in 20 countries. Global fair trade sales have soared over the past decade. The increase has been particularly spectacular among Fairtrade labelled goods: in 2006, these sales amounted to approximately €1.6 billion worldwide, a 41 % year-to-year increase.[16] As per December 2006, 569 producer organizations in 58 developing countries were FLO-CERT Fairtrade certified and over 150 were IFAT registered..[17][18]


History of Fair Trade by Transfair

History of Fair Trade by A Fair Trade Hub

History of Fair Trade - Wikipedia

How Fair Trade Hit the Mainstrean - BBC

A Great Source on Fair Trade Information

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


For my next task, I am to start compiling resources on fair trade, including the history of the concept, the main organizations, the products available throughout the world (in groups like coffee, cotton, etc..) the arguments for and against, are there sources in the region? etc...
I must also outline the advantages and disadvantages facing an organization that wants to deal in fair trade goods, looking at it both from the perspective of an environmentalist as well as from the perspective of a businessperson who's main concern is profit etc.. and how they would approach selling the idea to each type of person. I am very excited about this project. I remember when I had my first experience with fair trade, before fair trade was even called "fair trade." A friend of the family loved my country Guatemala, and he had started in the coffee business while at the same time giving back to the people who were producing the coffee, mainly the Guatemalans at this time. He was the founder of Seattle's Best Coffee, before it became part of Starbucks Corporation. At any rate, I really admired how he did his business through developing relationships of trust and through this getting a quality product but making sure the producers not only got fair pay, but he also did community development projects for them. At any rate, he gave me some good insight about fair trade just recently that I want to share with you.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

First Project - Waste Management

My first task as intern for Equilibrium is regarding waste management. On the surface, waste management does not sound like the most exciting topic in the world, or even a desirable one to work with, but you will soon see how significant this topic is for us and our future.

When I began the project, what I knew about waste management in Kuwait specifically was that I never once saw a single recycle bin anywhere. I also noticed that the residential garbage bins are always overloaded because they are so small. I observed a lot of people throughout the Middle East tend to just throw garbage on the ground without thinking where it might go. I saw a lot of waste along the shores of the beach when I would go jogging there. I knew waste management was an area that needed attention in Kuwait and I knew that along with waste management comes many opportunities to develop innovative ways to reduce and recycle waste, which in turn brings in economic opportunity.

So in short, I was aware of the connection between waste management and the business world and how waste can affect the environment. At any rate, my first task required that I collect data regarding waste management in Kuwait. Equilibrium was looking to assess how serious the waste management problem is in Kuwait and what is currently being done about it. I was asked to seek out a couple doctors at Kuwait University who might have some research data on the subject. It took me two weeks to finally track down one of the two doctors. But it was worth the effort because she was very helpful and cooperative. She had answers to all of my questions with regards to landfills and waste management. She informed me that the landfill situation in Kuwait is very bad. Usually, landfills are lined so that the waste cannot seep directly into the soil.

However non of the Kuwaiti landfills have lining or any system for classification and dividing of different types of waste as it comes in to the landfill. Everything gets dumped together in one place with the exception of medical waste. This can be a recipe for disaster. Additionally, anyone can dump anything, including companies who want to get rid of their industrial waste without any worry of being monitored. This is just a small part of the overall problem with regards to landfills in Kuwait. This is also found in other Middle Eastern countries, not just Kuwait.

The good news is that this doctor has actually come up with a low cost and efficient way to assess how deep the waste goes in the landfills and what type of waste is found in them, as that information is currently unknown. She has offered to let me work with her on her project so that will be a great learning opportunity. The information she gave me I forwarded to my boss and now we are preparing for the upcoming waste management conference which should also prove to be very interesting.

How Can Sustainability and Social Responsibility Contribute to the Future of the Middle East?

With their potential for economic growth and their financial wealth, Kuwait and the rest of the Gulf countries have the potential to become front runners in the Middle East in considering the environment and social responsibility, and I hope to help them to start that foundation.
The Middle East is a fascinating place with so much cultural richness and financial prosperity. People of the region are increasingly growing aware of the changing climate of business and of the world as a result of globalization and as such there is growing potential for development here. We can see already a substantial amount of growth and innovation in a very short period of time through the example of Dubai. Unfortunately, one area that still lacks a greater awareness is the environment and how it is being impacted by the current practices of companies and individuals. This problem affects all aspects of life from physical health to the natural beauty of the region. This problem however can also be viewed as a treasure box of opportunity for those who have vision and initiative and wish to consider sustainable concepts and how they can adopt them in their businesses.

I chose this cause because I love the Middle East. I am originally from Latin America and study in the University of Washington and I am studying abroad in Kuwait. I had so much success here and fell in love with the region so much that I was looking for a way I could give back to a place that had given me so much. I realized quickly that the region overall had great issues with regards to the environment. The beautiful beaches of the gulf were littered with garbage, there were little if any recycling programs, no awareness campaigns and lesson plans for the schools with regards to the environment, all of the landfills were unplanned and unlined and the waste seeping into the soil and polluting the storm water drains. Yet I could not understand how such a wealthy country with the financial means to take care of this issue and with a government committee assigned to the environment was allowing this to be this way. I decided I would try to see how I can help make a change for the better just as many countries have also done with regards to such issues as waste management such as the UK.