5 July, 2019

Investing in Women for a more Equitable Future

by Julie Francoeur, Executive Director - Fairtrade Canada

What do you consider fair pay for a day’s work?

If you’re a cocoa farmer in the West Africa, you’d need $3.13 per day to support a decent livelihood, which sounds attainable, until you consider that the average income for cocoa farmers currently stands at $1.26 per day. Poverty, with few options outside of cocoa, is the reality for the majority of cocoa farmers in West Africa.

What is more, this poverty disproportionately affects women, who are often responsible for the household economy - childcare, food preparation, and budgeting. They are also often pulled in to help in the fields as families struggle to survive.

Attending the Women Deliver Conference this past June, I was inspired by the many stories of individuals, advocacy groups, NGOs, and companies promoting and fighting for gender equality and the rights of women and girls. But I was struck how seldom talk of international development is discussed in the context of trade.

While the commitments announced by Prime Minister Trudeau to support women and girls’ health should be applauded, there needs to be equal commitment made to invest in women’s potential to impact the economy through the autonomy to make their own business decisions.

The World Bank estimates that countries lose $160 trillion USD in wealth due to earnings gaps. Women need (and deserve) equal economic opportunity, and the ability to earn and make decisions around money and the household economy.

For too long risk has been pushed to the beginning of the supply chain where those who have the fewest resources are left to deal with the consequences. In few places is the need for a living income as stark as West Africa. Though farmers in the countries produce more than 60% of the world’s cocoa, the income they earn is far below global poverty indicators. According to a study conducted by True Price and Fairtrade, only 42 percent of cocoa farmers in the Ivory Coast earn above the extreme poverty line, and only 23 percent above the poverty line.

On June 12, the governments of the Ivory Coast and Ghana took an important step and suspended trading of cocoa and mandated a minimum price of $2,600 per metric tonne (MT) for cocoa (for reference, Fairtrade is the only certification that requires a minimum price, which currently stands at $2,400/MT). And while minimum prices play an important role in protecting farmers from the worst price volatility, the future of chocolate depends on pushing and supporting companies to ensure that farming families can earn a living income from their hard work.

On World Chocolate Day, and as the plight of women in the cocoa sector becomes increasingly dire, I hope we can start to have deeper discussions on how economic empowerment is critical to breaking the cycle of poverty and dependence that leads to some of the major challenges we are trying to tackle through the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

At the end of the day, it’s not just a question of what’s fair and right; it’s a question of whether or not we want to be able to share a chocolate bar with our daughters in the future.

Photo: Sean Hawkey. SCINPA is a Fairtrade-certified cocoa-producing coop in Agboville, Ivory Coast. SCINPA has 2,500 members with farms mainly between 5 and 10 hectares. Their members earn around 90% of their income from cocoa and their harvests have recently been badly affected by climate change and drought. The coop is using Fairtrade premium payments for building schools, to help eliminate child labor in the area, and they hope to provide potable water to all the local villages in the future.