FAIR Well – On A More Personal Note

15 years ago I went on my first trip to try and find a rubber producer willing to supply a few 100 kg of rubber under ‘Fair Trade’ conditions for the foot/soccer balls I was trying to sell at the time. At the end of 2020, the members of the Fair Rubber Association (FRA), which grew out of this effort, had traded 270,000 kg of DRC (Dry Rubber Content) and paid the corresponding amount in Fair Trade premiums to supplier partners from Indonesia to Sri Lanka. The audit of one of these suppliers reported on another incidence of increase: The original number of 277 tappers (only those who actually tap are allowed as members of that particular group – no absentee land owners) had voted to allow 100 more of their colleagues to join. However, even though the FRA member who buys from this group, is the most regular buyer amongst all our members, and overall the 2nd biggest by volume, each of those (now) 377 tappers at present gets an extrain come of ca. EUR 15 per month only – EUR 180 per year. This is what our Fair Trade premium of EUR 0.50/kg DRC ‘translates’ into on the ground – an amount which is far removed from an ‘equitable distribution’ or a ‘living wage’.Nevertheless: Better than lofty goals that never translate into any actual benefits.At the time you read this newsletter, I will no longer be the Executive Secretary of the FRA. I hold dual nationality, but I have reached retirement age in both countries and I can take a hint. But is EUR 15/month extra pay for rubber tappers an achievement to retire on? Compared to the situation 15 years ago –and with the situation most primary producers still live in – I guess we can take some pride in the fact that Fair Trade in natural rubber has grown from zero kgs then to hundreds of tons p.a. today. And I am happy to be able to hand over to my successor at a time, when we get more inquires from companies interested in joining than ever – from cosmetics to construction to sporting goods firms. Even so it is obvious that the Fair Rubber Association can never be the answer to the un-equal distribution of benefits in the global trade in natural rubber. But what comforts me is that the FRA has demonstrated beyond doubt that the FRA’s level of Fair Trade premiums, which has been called to be ‘unrealistically high’, is actually possible – and is already helping 100s if not 1.000s of disadvantaged producers and their families. Hopefully, my successor will continue to see growth in the numbers of companies who realize that all it takes is their will, and the outlook is good: A growing number of new inquiries have come in in the last few months, including one for a Fairly Traded car tyre! I will remain around to help and hopefully see it happen. mk