There is no internationally binding definition of ‘Fair Trade’. But there are a few principles, which should be complied with when talking about Fairly Traded products.
First of all there is the purpose of the ‘Fair Trade’ concept: It should contribute to the attempts of disadvantaged producers to improve their working and living conditions. The second core
principle is the payment of a price, which not only covers the cost of production but on top of this allows the producers some extra income to invest in their future. This ‘extra’ is usually
called a ‘Fair Trade premium’.
In addition it has to be guaranteed that those who actually produce an item or grow something, are free to decide how to spend this Fair Trade premium: They have earned this income, they can do
with it what they want; they do not have to follow the dictate of some donor from abroad.
How do these principles translate into the reality of Fairly Traded rubber products? In the case of natural latex, ‘disadvantaged producers’ are generally small farmers (and their employees):
They account for 80% of the global rubber production, and this group is hit particularly hard when the world market prices are so low that they do not even cover the cost of production (see
article on page 1).
The Fair Trade premium of EUR 0.50/kg DRC set by the Fair Rubber Association ensures that even in times of extremely low prices small farmers do not only cover their production costs, they also
have some spare income that allows them to send their children to school, buy new tools, … The board of the respective association of small farmers will decide how to allocate the Fair Trade
However, most of the rubber sourced by the members of the Fair Rubber Association comes from plantations: Most products carrying the Fair Rubber logo require extremely diligent processing, which
is not always possible when sourcing from small farmers. The workers on a plantation are usually only indirectly affected by low prices on the world market: The management will have less
financial leeway for paying higher wages, renovate housing, … The Fair Trade premiums, which are channelled via the Fair Rubber Association, are paid into a separate account at the respective
partner plantation. The decision on how these funds are spent (last year some EUR 45,000) is taken by a so-called ‘joint body’ – a committee put together by the workers of the respective
plantation. The only condition from the side of the Association is that the money has to benefit the workers. Otherwise the joint bodies are free to decide as they see fit (although the
management has a veto – since whatever is to be done will happen on ‘their property’). This mode of decision taking was first introduced on Fairtrade labelled tea plantations, and it is now
working similarly well for rubber suppliers. Projects financed via the Fair Trade premiums serve as proof.