Fair trade audits aren't costly and improve lives, says Nature's Pride CEO

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Fair trade audits aren't costly and improve lives, says Nature's Pride CEO

With grower welfare becoming more important for fresh produce consumers and the retail chains they buy from, Dutch company Nature's Pride will begin selling 'fair trade' mangoes in January, 2012. The company's CEO Shawn Harris tells www.freshfruitportal.com about the auditing processes involved in ensuring fair trade is genuine and not just 'greenwashing', where the mangoes will come from and what products are next in line.

In early December a dark cloud was cast over the fair trade industry when a small Argentine blueberry exporter affiliated with interupccion* Fair Trade was investigated by authorities for slave labor practices. Interupccion* told trade publication The Packer the arrests were politically motivated and the accused farmers were not guilty, but the event has nonetheless raised questions about how consumers can know whether fair trade products are the real deal.

For Harris, who has been to farms involved in the IMO 'Fair For Life - Fair Trade' certificate program and witnessed the positive changes it has brought to communities, deep audits are always necessary to uncover potential problems, to ensure a seal of approval that leads to better livelihoods for growers.

"If anyone thinks that they do not have problems, then they have their head in the sand.  We run into social issues all the time, and this audit is there so that these issues can be solved and corrected. We hope we never run into slave labor, but if we do, we will do everything in our power to enable the supplier to correct his actions.

"We are not the police or a government organization controlling our colleagues. We think all of us can do much better. We are allergic to green washing, so inside our doors, we are very critical of the ones taking this weak option.

"Our goal is to see that all of us are required to have a standard audit for social issues, let's call it the GLOBAL SOCIAL GAP. The 'For Life' audit would be a good option for everyone."

'Fair For Life - Fair Trade' auditing procedures

Harris says in choosing the program, Nature's Pride sought out a solution that would give full coverage and was affordable, highlighting that while certification does take time there are clear benefits.

"A lot of companies are trying to find a social social solution that blankets every grower without testing individually. Our experience is that this does not work.

"Fair Trade for Nature's Pride is simple, transparent, and does not have to be costly.  It is proof, via an audit that our growers are taking care of the social commitments that should be considered for every person that lives on this earth.

"We are finding that most growers need to be more aware of their social responsibilities.  Many think they are doing everything right, but have a few issues that could be done better.  We plan to audit every grower in the future.  With more than 350 growers groups this will take time, but the goal is definitely there."

To gain an IMO 'Fair For Life' certificate a farm must secure the following elements:

- No forced labor

- No child labor

- No discrimination

- Sustainable salary is paid

- Social benefits are paid

- Working hours are not excessive

- Healthy and safe working environment

- Freedom of association and collective bargainig

Harris says for the certificate to include the 'Fair Trade' element, growers must be guaranteed a minimum price and there should be an extra premium.

Nature's Pride has a goal that all the mangoes it imports will be certified under the scheme, which would cover about 3 million cartons of the fruit. So far the company has verbal commitments from growers in Mali, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Peru, and still has Brazil to go.

"Fair for Life - Fair Trade mango growers are being audited for several issues, and this goes into detail.  The audit in Peru took three full days to cover all aspects. The extra time was partially due to different companies being audited," says Harris.

"A 'For Life' audit can be done in less than two days, when the grower has a less complicated system and all issues can be addressed in a clear and quick manner."

"For most growers in the world and most consumers, 'For Life' should be the answer in proving that the social aspects are being achieved at the grower/supplier level."

Inspiration for change

Harris emphasizes all the operations she has visited that take the 'fair trade' step have been companies with a 'social heart', as agriculture can be a tough lot for farmers.

"I often see that life is not easy for our small growers spread all over the world. They work so hard to do things right and often do not get the credit for it.  I am a firm believer that we all need to know the obstacles that they are confronted with. And we can all take part in a more detailed understanding of what the cost price is and why," she says.

"Sometimes there are complete crop failures.  What happens to families when a crop has been destroyed by weather? Have they lost their job and ability to keep their kids in school and pay the bills? What does this mean for the grower? The last thing they need at that moment is a fine because they could not deliver.

"What is really nice is when the community has had a bumper crop and fair prices have been paid, meaning work for all and a profit for the grower.  You see a complete change in the whole village and surroundings. This way of doing business really makes an impact."

She says it is not the small premium that makes the impact, but doing honest and fair business that gives far away villages the chance to develop.

"I call this enabling each other and not a hand out.  Hand outs do not work.  All business should be based on a win-win situation."

Significance for markets, and the next horticultural goods in line

Nature's Pride sells to 400 customers across 25 European countries, and many have been curious about what the company's move into fair trade will mean.

"We have advised our customers and 99% are pleased with our daring step.  Many have lots of questions.  This is good. I think this step is not to be underestimated.

"This means much preparation, and then the audits, growers that have to be open for this detailed audit, our customers that have to accept our move and understand it, and our own employees that need to be fully aware of our choice and what this means for the growers and their employees."

Once the company's imports of 'Fair For Life - Fair Trade' mangoes are well up and running, it has plans to introduce more products with the certification.

"Many of our green asparagus growers have passed the 'For Life' audit in Peru.   In January we will have audits in Colombia for physalis, and Kenya for haricot vert and other exotic vegetables.

"We are busy in Guatemala for snow peas and sugar snaps.  In Peru we will continue with our avocado growers, white asparagus and pomegranates."


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