Group campaigns for “fair trade” in Mindanao

APFTI is pushing for "an empowered community of entrepreneurs fighting poverty and contributing to sustainable development through fair trade,” Rommel Agustin, its executive director, said.

Agustin said they espouse not just the production of quality products but also compliance to "fair trade principles” like payment of fair wages to employees, adherence to sustainable business that protects the environment, respect for children and women, respect for intellectual property, and the provision of good and safe working conditions for workers. 

Agustin attended the press conference Friday which also featured Department of Trade and Industry officials promoting Mindanao-wide trade fair to promote the government's one town one product (OTOP) strategy.

He acknowledged that fair trade practice is still relatively unknown and that they are still  making inroads with the filing of an application for accreditation with the government  so they could for a set of fair trade standards.    

Fair trade is an “alternative approach to conventional international trade, a way to end poverty and put in place just business partnerships, relationships, networks, structures and systems,” the APFTI website says.

"Fair trade makes sure that products, especially food and crafts are safe, of world-class quality, reasonably priced, environment-friendly and consumer-responsive," it says.

Agustin said the practice is relatively new in the country but has been making waves in Europe the past three decades. He said consumers there are getting more conscious about the processes undertaken to produce goods.

He said they have advocacy work in only three regions in Mindanao, particularly in Northern Mindanao, Southwestern Mindanao and the Caraga region.

Agustin said they also plan to introduce a labeling scheme to accredit products complying with fair trade standards.

He said they are eyeing the launching of the "fair trade" label similar to what the organic farming movement does to an organic pineapple brand produced by a farmers' cooperative in Bukidnon.

Agustin admitted that products from fair trade-compliant firms may cost higher but said consumers will realize soon enough that in patronizing “fair trade” products, they are helping workers and the environment as well.

Agustin’s group is starting to work with small and medium enterprises that produce potential "champion" products such as Bukidnon's organic pineapple, Sultan Kudarat's muscovado, and Tupi, South Cotabato's passion fruit.

He expressed hopes bigger companies will follow suit.

“Someday it will be the consumers who will demand it from the producers of the product they patronize," he said.

"If the company really looks at its long run sustainability, most likely they will follow the principles.

He said Davao City's legislation to ban aerial spraying among agricultural plantations will not be good to the banana industry in the short run but in the long-run, companies might be thankful it was passed because the trend in the export market now is also moving towards organic products or those produced without causing hazards to people and the environment. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)